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 Meditation

A Christmas meditation

I have a confession to make, I don’t much like Advent or Christmas.  Oh, I like the liturgy and ritual, those remind me of why I believe as I do. I just don’t like all the other stuff: insipid Christmas movies, gift giving, Christmas cards, all of the socializing, and the commercials. Don’t get me started on the commercials!  Such things all seem to be totally unimportant and not in keeping with why we have this time of remembrance.

The thing of it is, all of the stuff people do at this time of the year has little to do with remembering the birth of God in human flesh.  I don’t mean the ridiculous little memes or signs that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” those have nothing to do with God’s rebellious act of an immigrant baby  who claims the title of King and Son of God. That birth is revolutionary, that is prophetic, that is miraculous.  The stupid memes that spout Jesus are really all about the gift giving Santa God that people hope will bring them ponies, or cars, or that one gift that will make them popular.

This Son of God wasn’t born to ensure that anyone got that fancy new Lexus, rather Jesus was born because the world needed the reminder of who they are, the Children of God. Two thousand years later we still haven’t remembered. Two thousand years later we still haven’t absorbed the message of the miracle that began with the announcement to a young woman and the birth of her baby. We still haven’t learned the lessons taught by the Man the baby became. Listening has never been a strong trait in us humans.

History has shown that the excessive acquisition of material goods, hoarding of monetary resources, and the desire to rule, intimidate, demean, abuse and destroy the weak, and to see ourselves as gods leads to the destruction of our very being and as a result whatever society we create. Notice I said ‘we’ as in you, me and the gatepost not as in you, me, and God. Throughout history when leaders of societies forget who the real societal creators are, when leaders feel they are entitled to benefits they have not worked for, the collapse is inevitable. When enslaving the population becomes the means of economic reward, when we, the citizens, allow  leaders to deflect their responsibility for the failures of government and social welfare away from themselves and place it on the most vulnerable, and when we citizens fail to accept our part in the deception, then the culture and society we humans created becomes toxic and unable to sustain itself for very long.

What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Well, the birth of Jesus was supposed to signal a new age where the covenant with God would rule our lives. Every year we have the opportunity to renew our covenant and learn to live with God, however we define God.  Yet the ‘good will’ we profess never seems to last through Christmas Day let alone a year. Every Christmas I see people donating to charities in a spirit of good will, yet on January 1st the demeaning and dehumanizing of the most vulnerable continues as if Christmas never happened. Food banks will again have to beg for food donations, men, women, and children will still be homeless and hungry. We will continue to let our government put babies in concentration camps where they are abused physically and sexually and allowed to die. All as if Christmas never happen.

I am not sure how, or if, any of this can be changed. I certainly cannot change how people feel or change how they behave. I do try to give all year round, instead of at years end, to charities that feed the poor, care for the homeless, and fight injustice. But I am only one person, and an old woman, who tries to do her small bit. The tears I shed only feed my frustration at the lack of humanity I see in our political, social, and so-called religious leaders, but I can’t change them either.

I am heartened by the stand of young women world-wide who are fighting an uphill battle against ignorance, climate destruction, and injustice. I am placing my hope in them, praying they have the strength to fend off the assaults they have, and will continue to, experience because they speak out against the established rulers of our day. I pray they will not become discouraged; they will continue to voice the truth and continue to call to account those who would destroy us.  They are the new voices in the wilderness, the new voices of reason, and the new voices of truth. I pray they will not lose heart, that they will not be deflected from their chosen path by those who would marginalize them. May the light of whatever God they follow be with them.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 19, 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

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

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.