I’ve known two people who could see auras, sometimes around people they knew and sometimes around strangers walking down the street. Neither saw them all the time, and neither talked about it much – it made too many people nervous. The same goes for a couple of people I know who have the gift of healing through touch. All four were quite sure that these spiritual gifts weren’t a sign of superior spirituality, and all were emphatic that they weren’t something that was earned or deserved. These four have offered God’s love in uncommon ways, and have made the world a better place for the sharing of their gifts.
Most of us haven’t seen any members of the heavenly host winging through the air, bearing greetings and do-not-be-afraids to those who are asked to go on a mission from God. But we have seen messengers who bring a word of assurance and loving touch when we are afraid, and a steady if small light when we are in dark places. Such angels may not be sporting wings or haloes, but they bring with them a glimpse of God’s presence – and they leave behind the impression that something holy has visited us.
High winds and subzero temps kept us inside for most of the weekend, so it was with delight that we stepped into a beautiful winter night this Sunday. Planets and stars walked with us, with just an occasional cloud passing in between. Other than a few house lights in the distance, and the odd string of lights on one of the neighbors’ houses, our path was illuminated by what the night sky offered. The moon was still half hidden by the Green mountains as we began our walk, rising steadily until it was well above them when we turned into our driveway to head inside. A few paces down the driveway and the house lights took over, outshining the softer gleams of heavenly bodies.
I often think about the lights we create, the lesser ones that only shine on our little section of this universe. From my limited view, they are brighter than the much grander celestial lights. I am grateful for the light they shed, and for welcoming family, friends, neighbors, and strangers as they walk to our door. I am also grateful for the truth they reveal:
In the grand scheme of things, it’s easy to forget that what is near and familiar often appears larger than it is. And what is truly grand can be mistaken for a lesser light because it is beyond my own back yard.
Last night, the temperature dove from one to seventeen degrees below zero. The wind howled and turned tree branches into a percussion ensemble. This morning’s sun revealed in the snow a still life of what is never still: the breaking of an incoming wave. A wind-sketched ocean has taken up temporary residence in this Vermont valley. How vast is nature’s power to create through severe weather the same pattern in two places that will never meet.
I wonder if it is just such power that drives us to create such patterns. How vast is the power of the Spirit moving through our lives that we sketch its pattern in words and images. What is scripture, liturgy, architecture, and music if not our best attempts of giving future generations a glimpse of the pattern God has impressed on our holy lives?
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.”
excerpt from Goodbye and Keep Cold, by Robert Frost
Soon after moving to Vermont, I planted some bulbs along the front walk. Nothing special, just some irises and daffodils from my Massachusetts garden. Then I planted chives off the back porch. With minimal care, these plants will be thriving long after I am gone.
Still, I’m concerned. Lately, the temperatures have shot up into the upper 40’s, and the ground hasn’t remained frozen. With the recent move, I’m not sure if the plants can survive the temperature swings. Winter is nap time for plants, a time to hunker down until it is time to produce again. It’s a rest period, a pause before expending energy in the form of flowers and leaves. What happens when there isn’t enough snow covered down time?
It’s something I think about in my own life, this need for a period of rest. If I don’t take a break from creating and producing, it won’t be long before I cannot produce much at all. Everything has a season, and dormancy is as critical a season as any.
But what if I stop producing? What if a dormant season isn’t a season – what if it stretches to become a barren life? That’s where trust comes in. That’s where the wisdom of seasons is embraced, and the faith that a growing season will return. Or, in Frost’s closing words,
On a snowy afternoon, I took a right out of the driveway instead of my usual left, walking away from the cloud-covered mountain view in favor of the smaller scale quiet of trees and stone walls. No breeze played in the branches and all the houses stood silent. My own breathing and the tck-tck-tck of my boots compacting the snow were the only sounds overlaying the peth-peth-peth of falling flakes. In the snowfall-filtered light, at the end of my road, I entered a sanctuary as holy as any stone cathedral.
It remained only for a few minutes, bourn away by the sound of a truck engine starting somewhere close by. I turned around and pointed my boots homeward. Mine were still the only impressions in the snow, marking a solitary progression from home to unexpected holy ground. They would soon be lost, buried by the falling snow or overridden by tire tracks. That’s okay -such signs don’t need to remain once their work is done. The encounter, not the sign, is what lasts – an impression and a message: surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own townsto be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
Luke 2:1-14, NRSV
Gracious God, give us the wisdom to seek angels, and to see them in our midst. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to love. On this holy night, make us holy. Amen.
Art offered by Thom Nordquist, child of God who is with Jesus.
Readings: Psalm 145:5-10; Ruth 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:11-18
But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18, NRSV
I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity and self-seeking; cultivatingcheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.
In particular, I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep, which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.
And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen
[Back Page Prayer, Forward Day By Day, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, Ohio]
Readings: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Isaiah 40:1-11; John 1:19-28
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen. Psalm 72, NRSV
How many times during the summer months have we not seen rain in a few days and the grass turns a little bit brown? Do we not hope for that refreshing, renewing rain?
And that’s what Jesus comes to do.
He comes to refresh, renew us, refresh us with the forgiveness of our sins, and refresh us with the gift of everlasting life.
He wants us to have these things and know how much we are loved.
He wants us to receive them, as that which only he does, to refresh us and renew us.
Will we always flourish on earth? NO.
But when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are already flourishing in a spiritual way. We already have been given the greatest gift of all. We have already been given the gift of righteousness, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. As we receive and embrace this truth, we are already abounding. And this will not only continue until the moon is no more, but beyond it for all eternity because of Jesus, our Savior, because of our King.
Dear Lord Jesus,
As we remember your first coming, help us to see all that you have done and given, the righteousness that you have showered upon us, as rain upon the earth. Fill us with hope in you, and comfort us with your presence, and sustain us by your gifts, as we wait on you, that we may wait, embracing your love, your goodness, your righteousness, your gift of salvation. Amen.
Words and Image offered by Donna Eby, child of God.