Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
                     In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina Rosetti

The carol, In the Bleak Midwinter, is probably my favorite Christmas song. The verse above is not in our hymnal. I found it online at website for The Poetry Foundation. The word “Enough” spoke to me because Rosetti’s description tells me that Jesus did not need much when he was born—a place to sleep, food to eat, and parents to care for him. It was enough. I find it humorous that even though angels fall before him, it was enough that the animals adored him!

How satisfied am I with simple things—simple, nourishing food, an adoring pet, a place to sleep, and the companionship and support of others? Maybe the reason the word “enough” keeps coming back to me is that I recently read about Evagrius Ponticus, the early monastic teacher whose naming of the eight deadly passions laid the groundwork for the seven deadly sins. Evagrius also named eight virtues, one for each of the passions (the monastics always considered passions as negative—they were states of mind that were considered destructive of love). We don’t talk about the virtues as much as we should. Evagrius said that the only way to do away with a passion was to overcome it with a corresponding virtue.

Interestingly, the first passion he named was gluttony. Considering the word “enough” against the backdrop of gluttony makes the contrast between the two especially strong. Gluttony is not only about overeating. It is about overdoing anything that is destructive of love. So how much of what we do in this season becomes gluttonous? And when we identify our overeating, overbuying, overdecorating and overdoing as gluttony, how is that celebrating the birth of the One who was born into simple surroundings and was satisfied with the simple things that nourished his life?

The virtue that overcomes gluttony is temperance. What would it look like to practice temperance in this season? Would simple meals, simple gifts, and a simple celebration allow me to focus more on the birth of Jesus, to adore along with the animals that surrounded him? 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jesus In Us

I cannot imagine how it must have felt for Mary to have been impregnated by God. Did she experience the wonder of knowing that within her womb, the promised Messiah was growing daily? Did that sustain her against the criticism of others, the shame of family, the potential loss of her betrothed?

Why did God choose this way of bringing himself into the world? A single young woman engaged to be married. Her reputation stained, even her life at risk because of this pregnancy, certain evidence, it would seem, of promiscuity and adultery.

Maybe this is why Jesus was compassionate to the woman caught in adultery. What had his own mother told him of her experience being pregnant with him? Of the rejection she endured? Of living with a ruined reputation?

And what does this say to me about how I should live? Can I be so certain of the evidence I see as to judge another without knowing how God is at work in that person—how Jesus is growing in them? Is Jesus in me so that I can see Jesus in another—even when that person has been labeled and judged by well-meaning “church folks” as someone unfit to be accepted?

What strength Mary had to be able to praise God as she did, even knowing that what God was doing in and through her would bring scorn and rejection from family and community! Can I see beyond the black and white to the Light of the world? Can I love others and give them grace, knowing that Jesus is growing within them, even if they do not acknowledge it themselves? Will I let Jesus live in me, even if it brings me criticism and rejection?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Zechariah's Silence

“But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
                                                                                                  Luke 1:20

I cannot imagine how Zechariah felt during the time he was silent. It would have been all of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and even before, so he was probably mute for ten months or more. Over the past week, my ability to talk has seemed essential, as I was traveling and needed to be able to ask for help with arrangements and directions. I’ve thought a lot how difficult it would have been to contact the hotel shuttle driver or to ask an airline agent how to adjust for a missed flight.

Zechariah couldn’t share in the joy of telling friends and family what he had seen in the Temple and that, after long years of disappointment, he was going to have a son. He could not relay the prophecy about his child. He could not share the good news.

How helpless he must have felt. When you have spent your life talking, what must it have felt like to go so long without being able to do so. Our ability to speak is one way we are judged by society to be relevant. Have you ever sat quietly when others are offering their opinions and not shared your own? Have you tried to say something and been ignored? We attach great value to our ability to say what we think, to speak our mind.

What submission Zechariah must have learned over the long period of silence. He couldn’t easily convey his likes or dislikes. He couldn’t tell others if he felt good or bad. He could neither express joy over his son’s impending birth nor offer verbal comfort to Elizabeth as she experienced the growth of the baby within her. It must have been a humbling experience.

How might being silent change me?