Light in the Darkness

December is a dark time for me, not just because it is the winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, but because I feel alone in the dark. Everyone around me is celebrating and I just don’t have the energy to do more than sit alone in the corner.  I know I’m a strong introvert and do not like large celebrations but that isn’t the reason for my long face.  It is light, I crave light. Warm, yellow, soft, shining, comforting light. I want green growing light to warm my heart and open up my spirit, and here is the amazing thing, I find that light in my belief of a child, who grew into a man, whose message gave, and gives, me hope.  It is my light. 

So, in December during the traditional celebration of light by Christians and Jews alike I find my hope. It is true I don’t believe Jesus was born in December, it is a legend, a nice legend, but a legend none the less. But I love it that we do celebrate when the Earth bends towards the light, and hope comes again for rebirth.  Julia Blum of the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies says it best:

 “So, if the traditional nativity story is just a legend, why do we celebrate Christmas – and why do we celebrate it on the 25th of December? Let’s try to answer this question with the profound words of prophet Isaiah: “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?  The watchman said, “The morning comes, but also the night” [Isa 21:11-12}.  Also, the night… In this world, we are surrounded by night – and we all long for morning: “Watchman, what of the night”. Human beings long for light – and the One Who created us, knows our longing. That’s why, I believe, December 25th is an amazing time—by holding Christmas at the same time as the traditional winter solstice festivals, the message of Christmas has been made crystal clear: in the world’s darkest hour, the “Light of the World” is born! Yes, this date was chosen be men and probably for the wrong reasons, but as often happens, through human weaknesses and mistakes, God still works out His plan. For millions of believers, Christmas is a celebration of the true Light coming into this dark world!”

“In this sense, one can’t miss the connection between Hanukkah and Christmas -because the message of Hanukkah, Festival of Lights, is the same: The Light of God shines in this dark world, and the darkness cannot overcome it! This is not a pagan message: The Divine Light overcomes even the darkest of darkness – and this is what we celebrate on both Hanukkah, on the 25th of Kislev, and Christmas, on the 25th of December!”  (Julia Blum, December 18, 2019, Longing For Light: Christmas And Hanukkah, Israel Institute of Biblical Studies)

Ruth Jewell, ©December 24, 2019

A Christmas Prayer

Inspired by a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

Photo by NASA
Photo by NASA

Loving God, Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Let us close the door of hate and open the door to Peace
and in the window set the candle of Love to shine into the world
Let kindness come with every gift and Hope with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.
As we are forgiven let us be forgiving, for Jesus’ sake.

May our Joy at the birth of Christ
make every morning a Christmas morning
and every evening may our song of gratitude for your blessings
lull us to sleep.
Amen.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 30, 2015

Christmas Morn

Milky Way and Night Sky, NASA
Milky Way and Night Sky, NASA

hushed moments
short I know
lights on tree glow
silent prayers sent out to the world
loud whispers come from above
“shhh, do you think he’s been”
“let’s go down and look”
foots steps on stairs
children squeals of delight
parents sighs of relief
hushed moments
short I know

Ruth Jewell, ©December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

For Unto Us – Prayerful Tuesday

John 1:1-5  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The Nativity, Bartolomé Estaban Murillo, (1617-1682)
The Nativity,
Bartolomé Estaban Murillo, (1617-1682)

 

This is one of my favorite paintings of the birth of Jesus.  There is just something about the expressions on Mary and Josephs faces as they look at the new small being in their life that draws me in.  I once saw the original in the Boston Museum of Art and this tiny painting on black slate captivated me as no others have.

However, I must admit that despite loving this painting, I don’t see the nativity as an actual historical event.  It has been a long time since I believed in the virgin birth. I am a scientist by training and I know that while ‘virgin’ births do happen in nature, it’s called parthenogenesis, they only occur in certain species of worms and small crustaceans called daphnids.   So this event was a no go for me not long after my first serious biology class. But the importance of the birth story is not in history, it is in the symbolism of new life breaking into the world in the form of God within the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  New life, not of a baby’s, rather a new life lived in a world where all achieve their God given potential. Living in the world as Jesus did, with limitless love and compassion, offering justice and mercy to those who are in need, and offering a peace that fills the soul. Well then again maybe it is like the birth of a baby, for we all experience new insights as new birth within us.

So why I may not believe Jesus was born in an actual stable I do believe he was been born in the stables, and dark corners of our minds, societies, and cultures.  Jesus is the one who birthed new life in those dark recesses of our hearts and minds.  Who lit up the alley ways where suffering, pain, and violence reside bringing the light of love to those who were the unlovable.  In prayer and action we, you and I, continue to carry that light.  We take it to prisons, hospitals, hospice rooms, to the homeless, to the hungry, to anyone in need of the light provided by “The Way.”  At least we are supposed to.

Today I ask you to use the above painting for your Prayerful Tuesday Meditation using Visio Divina.

Visio Divina

  1. Look at the painting slowly, taking a first glance and noting the colors, people, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  2. Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges? What moves you in this painting? Does it draw you in or call to you in any particular way?
  3.  Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
  4. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

May you be blessed with the birthing of new life within you.  Merry Christmas everyone.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 23, 2014

What would you do? – Prayerful Tuesday

  13And suddenly there was with the angel
a multitude of the heavenly host,* praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’*

Luke 2:13-14

Nicolaes Berchem, Annunciation to the Shepherds, 1656
Nicolaes Berchem, Annunciation to the Shepherds, 1656

God speaks to us in many ways–through relationships, our experiences, sacred texts such as the Bible and many more. Like Lectio Divina is Latin for divine reading, Visio Divina is Latin for divine seeing, praying with images to listen to God’s words. Think of Visio Divina as if you were putting on God-glasses to see how an image illuminates the Christ within you.  Like Lectio Divina, Latin for divine reading, Visio Divina has four steps: Use the  above painting by a Dutch artist Nicolaes Berchem painted around 1650, titled Annunciation to the Shepherds.

  1. Look slowly and carefully at the painting, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. We are preparing for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, how does the paint help you prepare? If you would like, jot down a few words about the image in your journal.
  2. Now take deeper second look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Place yourself in the painting; are you a shepherd, a sheep, or angel? What do you see from that perspective? What emotions rise up for you? If you were a sheep what might you feel? If you were a shepherd how would you respond to the message of the angels? What else do you feel, or see in the painting? If you would like jot down your thoughts and feelings in your journal
  3.  Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
  4. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

May the song of the angels be with you as you go about your preparations for Christmas.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 9, 2014

Seeking God’s Face

Master of Vienna, Adoration (1410), FB Page The Celtic Christian Tradition
Master of Vienna, Adoration (1410), FB Page The Celtic Christian Tradition

Sermon – Epiphany Sunday
January 5, 2014
Queen Anne Christian Church Seattle, WA

Matthew 2:1-12 (Common English Bible [CEB])

Coming of the magi

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

Greek derivation of Magi, (Strongs Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek Dictionary)

3097. magos mag’-os  (of foreign origin (7248); a Magian, i.e. Oriental scientist; by implication, a magician:–sorcerer, wise man, [interpreter of dreams, prophet].   (plural, could refer to a male or female wise person)

The story of the Magi is such a familiar story. We have heard this story so many times before and I am sure all of us are able to repeat it without difficulty, at least the surface story.   I was confronted with this simple story, which is anything but simple, when I chose to meditate on it for Epiphany Sunday’s Sermon. Sitting in silence, letting the words of Matthew settle into my subconscious I realized there is so much more to this tale than I first believed. There are also way too many questions to address in a single sermon.  If you ever wanted to experience an abundance of graces just read this story carefully.   I could go into the fact that the gender and number of the Magi is never mentioned in the scripture and that the Magi were gentiles; or the Magi don’t visit the stable, they come to the home of Joseph and Mary; and because the story of the killing of the Bethlehem’s children that follows the Magi’s visit lead scholars to believe Jesus could have been as old as 2. And, that’s just few of the questions I found in these 12 verses of Matthew Chapter 2.  What did intrigue me, and what I will discuss, was never addressed by all of the learned theologians I perused. What I wanted to know was the reason these learned gentiles come in search of a child, a child born to a carpenter and his wife.  And, what unknown gifts still hides in this story for me, and all of us, beyond the pretty tale of rich strangers visiting a destitute baby?

First of my questions was what did the Magi expect to find when they arrived in Jerusalem.  Since they came to the city of the kings of Judea they must have expected to find the child born there, and to parents with more than a lineage to David. My guess is they had expected to find a somewhat wealthy family, or at least fairly well off.  After all they were looking for a King and you normally don’t find one living in the home of working class people. They must also have been confused and terribly disappointed that no one knew what they were talking about. I mean, the birth of a King is big news isn’t. Doesn’t everyone celebrate the birth of a King? It isn’t until King Herod calls them for an audience do they learn that the prophets foretell the birth of “the anointed one,” “the Christ,” was to happen in Bethlehem.  I have no doubt they left somewhat confused. But, eventually they find the baby living in the home with his mother and father. They even bring gifts, and while Mary might have preferred diapers, the gifts they gave were costly and fit for a King.  (By the way Bethlehem and the gifts are never mentioned again, why? Another question to confound me.)

They were seeking a child, an infant King, someone who would turn the Roman world upside down and I can only imagine their surprise at finding the child in such humble circumstances. They brought gifts Herod would have drooled over, gold, frankincense, myrrh.  Wonderful gifts but not really practical for the family they found, well the gold was probably most welcome.  But frankincense and myrrh those aren’t baby gifts.  Frankincense and myrrh were used to perfume oils and ointments for the purification of worship spaces and the anointing of the dead.

Now I know what Matthew was implying by the gifts: Gold was the symbol of Jesus’ kingship, frankincense the symbol for the priestly role Jesus would be called to live, and myrrh a foretaste of what he would endure at the end of his life.   But I think these gentile scholars brought something else and it has been bequeathed to us today and our children. The Magi brought the gift of “seeking God’s face.”

God has always welcomed us and longed for our inquisitive search for the face of the Divine, and She encourages us to reach for her Holy arms.  One of David’s Psalms says it well:

30 I will praise God’s name with song;
I will magnify him with thanks
31     because that is more pleasing to the Lord than an ox,
more pleasing than a young bull with full horns and hooves.
32 Let the afflicted see it and be glad!
You who seek God—
let your hearts beat strong again
— Psalm 69:30-32 (CEB)

And in the Book of Acts Paul tells the Athenians “27 God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us.” (Acts 17:27)  No God is never far away, we are.  And, seeking the face of God is one of the joys of creation we should do more often.

The Magi were the first to seek God’s face in its incarnated form, the face of a child.  For Matthew the Magi represent the mission Jesus gives his disciples to reach out to all peoples but especially gentiles, and those born within the great humble mass of humanity, in all its lovely diversity; poor and rich, young and old, all genders, all races, and all people.

For me the Magi represent the longing to see God in the face of my beloved, my grandchildren, best friend, and all creation.  I too want to see the incarnated God, I too long to see the ever present being in the first light of dawn, and I do see it in the face of my beloved when he first opens eyes in the morning.  The Magi have passed this longing down to us and I am grateful for the gift and grateful to pass it on to the next generation.

The Magi’s gift of presence to a child in a humble home was passed on to us through Jesus’ presence in his life, death and resurrection.  Now it is our mission to be present to the incarnated child born to humble parents.   To recognize and honor the incarnation born in each of us, through our gifts to the world whatever they may be; caring for each other, the environment, our nation, and our world.  It is up to us to be the Magi of today and visit the child in a humble home, to offer the gold of our love, to purify our mistakes with the frankincense of compassion; and to anoint those who pass on to the next world with the myrrh of God’s blessings and praise.   In a Judean desert David writes:

God! My God! It’s you—
I search for you!
My whole beingthirsts for you!
My body desires you
in a dry and tired land,
no water anywhere.
Yes, I’ve seen you in the sanctuary;
I’ve seen your power and glory.
My lips praise you
because your faithful love
is better than life itself!
So I will bless you as long as I’m alive;
I will lift up my hands in your name.
— Psalm 63:1-4 (CEB)

So too are we called to offer our praises to God, honor the child that lives today, in each one of us, and in all of creation.  Seek the face of God in all you meet, child, adult, male or female, and all of God’s marvelous creation.  Look in the eyes of your loved ones, your companion animals, see the face of God looking back.  Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©January 7, 2014

 

God’s Surprise — Prayerful Tuesday

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God’s Surprise
Paraphrase of Luke 2:26-33

God sent a Messenger to a virgin engaged
to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.
The virgins name was Mary.
As he entered the Messenger greeted Mary:

Greetings!
You are beautiful with God’s beauty,
beautiful inside and out,
God be with you.

Mary was confused by these words
and wondered what this could mean,
but the Messenger said:

Mary, you have nothing to fear.
God has a surprise for you;
You will become pregnant
and give birth to a son
and you will name him Jesus

Ruth Jewell, ©December 24, 2013
(I used the NRSV, The Voice and The Message)

The Innkeeper, a Christmas Story

innkeeperJacob was in a delighted panic, there were more people in his Inn than he had ever had before.  While giving thanks to the Romans would be condemned by the Temple authorities he was certainly thankful for this emperor’s whim.  Now if only he could find time to sit down to enjoy all of those shekels he was collecting.  Sara, his wife, was busy in the kitchen cooking a meal for their paying guests and for their own abundant family who weren’t paying because his wife wouldn’t let him charge them.  Family, sometimes you can’t live without them but tonight he would like to try.

Now Jacob loved his kind and gentle Sara, but sometimes her kindness was irritating. After all Jacob had to provide for his family. His son, Isaiah, had only just reached manhood, although he was a big help to him tonight.  Isaiah was carrying water to all of the paying guests (let his relatives get their own) and taking care of the animals.  Jacob’s two girls were busy in the kitchen with their mother and while Elizabeth was still a little small she was working just as hard as her older sister, Rebecca.  Over all Jacob was very happy, his Inn was full and he had a box full of money. He should not only be able to pay the tax collector (May YHWH rain fire down on his head!) but also have sufficient money for the next several months.  There might even be enough left over to put a little aside for his daughters dowries.

Jacob was suddenly shaken out of his revere by a call from his son.

“Father, there are two more in the courtyard.”

Jacob threw up his hands and ran out to tell them that he had no more room and that they should move on.   When Jacob opened the door a tall man greeted him. A very pregnant young woman was perched on a donkey behind him.  Jacob had to admit she looked very tired and uncomfortable.

“Excuse me, my wife and I would like a room to spend the night.  If you don’t have a room a corner would do.  Mary, my wife, is expecting and she is very tired.  We have money to pay and I will take care of the donkey myself.”

“I’m sorry we don’t have any rooms,’ Jacob said, “and to be honest with you I don’t think there are rooms free anywhere else in Bethlehem right now.  This mandated census has filled all the Inns.  My suggestion would be that you go up into the hills above the city and find a cave.  At least it would be out of the wind.  Good night to you.”

“Jaaa…cob, Isaiah tells me there is a woman with child out there”.

Jacob turned around and groaned as he faced his wife Sara.   “Sara we don’t have any room! Where would we put them?”  Taking one look at his wife’s face he said “Oh no! I am not giving up my bed! I am tired and will need to get some sleep tonight if I am to deal with all of these people tomorrow!”

Sara patiently looked at her red-faced husband; she knew he wasn’t as hard-hearted as some thought he was, he just had to be nudged once in a while.  “Well we can’t turn out a pregnant woman (may the LORD bless her child!), she looks like she is going to deliver any time now!  This census is bringing people out on the roads that shouldn’t be there!  Don’t you dare send them to the caves!  She’s pregnant Jacob, there are thieves up there and they will be robbed or worse!  Do you really want that on your hands?  Jacob, money isn’t everything.”

Jacob groaned again.  “Well, where do you propose we put them?”

“Isaiah”, Sara called, “get me some blankets and a lamp.  Jacob, the stable has a corner that is warm and dry, and you won’t charge them either!”

The man at the door had been looking on as the Innkeeper and his wife argued and now said, “Please, we will be glad to pay, we have some of our own supplies, we just need a place to rest.”

“No,” Jacob sighed, “Sara’s right, we can’t charge you for a night in the stable.  Isaiah will take you around the back and help his mother get you settled.”  Isaiah ran up with the bedding.  “Take them around to the stable and fix the stall on the west wall, it’s the driest and warmest.  Then come back and help Rebecca take some warm food and wine out to our guests.”

The gentlemen started to protest, “No, sir, it is the least we can do.  If you need anything during the night just knock on the door at the back, Isaiah will be sleeping there tonight and he will do what he can.”

The man looked very relieved, “thank you all so very much, you are very kind.  This is Mary’s first child and we have traveled so very far today.  My name is Joseph and I am a carpenter, if you need anything repaired or need any work done while we are here I will be glad to do it.”   Talking softly to his young wife, who turns and smiles her thanks at the innkeeper, Joseph turns, takes the donkey’s lead and follows Isaiah.

Sara looks lovingly at her husband. “You old softy, I knew you couldn’t turn them away.”

“Go, woman, and prepare some food for these people.  At least I’ll be able to get that back room lintel fixed.  Oh yes, I’ll take him up on his offer, he is an honorable man and I won’t embarrass him, go, go!”  Jacob looks outside as he turns to close the door, “my goodness it is bright outside, almost like daylight, there must be a full moon.”

©Ruth Jewell, November 29, 2009

Blessings and Peace to all this Christmastide!

This story was written for the 2009 Christmas Eve Service and I offer it here to all of you as my Christmas Gift.