Pastors Work More than Sundays

Greetings from the Land of Pilgrims, reader!  I’ve safely made it back up to my homeland for the summer to serve as “seminarian in residence” (the staff voted on it, I did not come up with that) at my home church.  This is the end of the first week and hoo boyo, I did not actually know what pastors do for a living.

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There’s supposed to a thing of 3D balloons in this.  If you can see it, bully.  It does not exist in my world.

So this week has been weird because I’m at a church I know well but at which I’m functioning in a totally new capacity.  Previously, I’ve been a congregant, a teacher, a leader of sorts, but I’ve never been on staff.  I’ve also never really had to see the whole picture of this church, noting the connections across the wide web and paying attention to the full administrative layout.  It’s a whole new way of thinking, which makes this feel like a new church, which is terrifically jarring in its way.  It’s sort of like those godawful drawings from the 90s that seem to be just geometric patterns until you cock your head just so and all of a sudden there’s a ship.  (I was never, ever good at those.  I couldn’t see the damn ship even after friends outlined it to me.  I don’t know what that means about my brain processes.)

But anyway, I’m learning to see the ship now and it takes some doing.  This first week was just shadowing Interpreter, the lead pastor, to as many meetings as possible (and oof is that a whole other weirdness, to add that role to the complex mess of Interpreter and I).  I worked about 35 hours from Sunday morning to Thursday night and I swear to you at least 80% of that was meetings.  Not that I’m complaining—when they’re run well, I actually like meetings (I know, it’s an illness) because they’re concrete ways to get specific kinds of information from people in a set amount of time.  But holy crow, the vastness of the information this particular pastor has to oversee is daunting.  I can’t do this for a living.

The thing that I’m trying to tell myself (since this is only the first week and all and panicking now is a bad idea) is that I probably won’t have to; each church is unique to itself and has its own way of doing administration and business, for better and for worse.  Even if I were assigned to this particular church at some point down the line (and that would top the weirdness meter), it won’t work like it does under Interpreter because churches change just like any family/organization.  This is a fantastic learning opportunity, to see this scale and be able to add or lose bits as I need them in moving forward.  And Interpreter is really good at making sure to toss me at whatever he can so I can see that, too, and then ask questions about it and compare it to what I already know so that I actually understand rather than just observe.

I’m not in the camp of folks who say “oh, Jesus didn’t have to go to meetings like this and it’s a perversion of the priesthood that we have to” because Jesus and I have very different kinds of ministry due to our time and cultural differences.  I go to meetings but He got crucified, so I think I’m okay with my lot.  Even Paul was nearly stoned to death a few times and was then executed, so I’m not going to say that going to two meetings about the facilities in the same day is a cross to bear.  But it does mean that I have to be super mindful of what my own spiritual life looks like while I’m doing this.  One of the meetings this week was basically a clergy support group where some area pastors can get together and remind each other why they felt called to this on the days when there is just one email too many, and that was fascinating.  We ended up talking about how necessary it is to have some kind of life outside the pastorate, some hobby or whatever that is not this kind of service to remind ourselves of who we are outside the metaphorical collar.  Nobody is going to give us that because there is always something to be done.  But we have to give that to ourselves; no one can serve water from an empty well.

It’s funny, this being my second internship in a church setting, to think that I could actually learn how to pastor.  You can’t.  It’s a monstrosity of a job with 1,000 arms and it’s a different color every day and sometimes it eats you; yes, the pastorate is, in fact, the kraken.  But there is ministry, and service, and love, and hope, and the good work to which we all are called, professionally or not, in most of it.  (Not all.  Poorly run meetings are Hell.)

But damn is this whole thing hard for an introvert.  Reader, I have peopled so much this week.  Pray for my people skills.  I’ll keep you updated on the meetings.

 

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Corinthians 9:12-13, NIV)

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Dress for the Job You Want

At least, that’s what folks tell you when they’re giving you job advice.  A variation given me by one of my div school profs was “dress for the game you’re playing.”  I get these, in the sense that you shouldn’t show up to a job interview in cut-off shorts and an old band shirt, but as a woman this becomes quite a tightrope of expectations—and all the more so as a woman pastor, because of course pastors have this whole other set of rules by which we need to live (please read the sarcasm there).

I’ve been thinking about this because Friday night I was invited to the birthday celebration of one of my parishioners.  It was at a rooftop bar in downtown Wicket Gate and the parishioner (who is really close to my age, which is to say a millennial) told me to “look spiffy” since it was, after all, a Friday night in the city.  In case you haven’t gathered, I’m not much of one for late nights on the town and I’m definitely more comfortable spending Friday night watching “Star Trek” episodes (“The Next Generation” forever, fight me on it) than bar-hopping with friends.  It’s just not my scene, so I don’t really have clothes for the occasion, but hey, I welcome the challenge.  I ended up wearing dark jeans, boots, and a shirt that has only one strap over the shoulder like a sari.  What this translates to is that I was basically in a tube top with my shoulder tattoo on display and my newly-buzz-cut hair making me fierce as all get-out.  I felt pretty awesome, I won’t lie—but I very nearly talked myself into changing about four different times because how dare I show so much skin.

womenpreach2That, Reader, is bullshit.  And I wanted to call myself on it, and my culture, and all of the expectations that go along with it.  I, as a female, can bare my shoulders and arms all I want, because if you can’t handle my collarbone being on display I am not the problem.  And I, as a pastor, should not have to worry about losing the respect of my parishioners for looking like a millennial out on the town on a Friday night because that’s what I am.  Hiding that does no one any favors, and in fact continues the weird mess the Church has gotten itself into of seeming to be this off-limits Sunday space where you put on skirts and haloes for an hour and then go live your actual life the other six days.  Over and over again I read articles about how we millennials want authenticity above all else, and I am so glad that I went to that party and drank drinks (which definitely surprised one other parishioner who was there, in a good way, because he didn’t think pastors can drink—and how, darlin’) and wore this shirt that proclaims I have skin, and a body, and a hand-sized tattoo, and I am not going to be ashamed of any of that.

I still think that you should dress for the job you want, but I don’t want a job where I have to wear a completely buttoned-up blouse all the time.  I don’t want a job where I have to hide that I have a female body, not to the extreme of wearing short shorts in the pulpit but to the extent of recognizing that when I’m not on the chancel I am more than the office.  And that seems to work well; I ended up spending most of the party talking with this couple who had never been able to find a church home in the five years they’ve been together because both of them have a lot of pain from being turned out of their previous churches for being gay.  They told me basically their life stories and one showed me pictures of his kids from a previous marriage and perhaps they’ll come to my church at some point, I don’t know.  What I do know is that I was absolutely acting as pastor for them that night, even and especially in a one-strap shirt with an amaretto sour in one hand.

I was dressed for the job I want.  And I got to do that job, because I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care about what I’m wearing.  After all, God is the One Who made me female.  God is the One Who called me to the pastorate.  I have the utmost respect for that office, but I refuse to stop being a person in my daily life because I could not be a good pastor if I did.  That parishioner didn’t invite A Religious Leader to his party.  He invited his pastor, his friend.

And told her to look spiffy.   Reader, she did.

 

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
(Psalm 139:13-14, ESV)

The Poor Will Always Be with You

There’s a guy who hangs out by the parking garage I pass on my way into school and the library where I work.  He used to hang out in the alley behind the restaurants and pass him on my shortcut through and he’d tell me the weather forecast for the day, sitting in a wheelchair and directing the traffic that was coming out of the coffee shops while the city rumbled into another day. I eventually learned his name, which I felt was only polite considering I saw him more often than some of my professors.

He’s not by the garage every day, but probably once a week or once every other week.  Every time he asks me if I can buy him a hot breakfast.  Lately he’s switched to asking for a gift card to the grocery store.  On Thursday he stopped me to say I had said “maybe next time” and it was next time and I had no card for him.

I tell you this, Reader, not to ask advice.  I don’t tell you this to complain about it, either.  I tell you this because I was struck when he asked me about the gift card by what an absurd request it really was.  I work a little over half time between my two jobs—anywhere between 20 and 30 hours a week—while being a full-time student.  And when I filed my taxes this year I was able to say that I had made $6,200 in 2017 in a city where rent below $700 is nigh impossible to find unless you have several roommates.

Now, I tell you this not to complain about my financial status but to give you context:  I am not that far ahead, socioeconomically speaking, of this guy who begs by the parking lot.  I am subsidized by the generosity of my home church so that I can live in this expensive city and finish this degree and even hope to pay off my student debt before I die (unlikely).  I can do this because I have that safety net, but I am poor.  And this week I was just so much more aware of it because my car was in the shop and any discretionary funding I had went to making sure it runs because I cannot be without a car and I certainly can’t afford another one.

Let me be clear, lest you worry:  I’m not in danger of losing my apartment or not being able to eat or anything.  But I am aware that I am one minor disaster away from being totally strapped, a fact I discovered the hard way last summer.  So I don’t know what to say to this man who is even poorer, who is homeless and hungry.  What I do is learn his name, say hello to him, chat with him about the weather, and say maybe next time I can get you a card, maybe one day I will be able to afford it, maybe.

I don’t feel guilty about that maybe not coming yet, but I am highly aware of this exchange and the ways it curls around my understanding of faith.  In the Gospel of Matthew, a woman pours expensive perfume on Jesus while He’s staying at Simon’s house and the disciples freak out about it.  What a waste of money!  She should have given the money to the poor!

mary-anoints-jesus-300x222“You always have the poor with you,” Jesus replies to their thoughts that were no doubt churning across their faces, “but you won’t always have Me.”

Considering the very next story after this in Matthew 26 is that of Judas’ betrayal and the Last Supper, such a statement is a sucker punch.  Because it’s true; the poor are still here.  That man is still here.  Hell, I am still here.  But Jesus—at least, in His human form—is not.  Granted, we who are in the season of Easter can be aware that Jesus’ whereabouts are pretty incredible; Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!  But the disciples only knew cost at that point, only knew that the money for the perfume could have been spent on the poor—or the car, the plumbing repair, the unexpected doctor’s visit, the license fee, the whatever.

So, for us who don’t have Jesus in the same way but still have the poor, what do we do?  We aren’t going to buy any perfume any time soon, I don’t think; the Spirit isn’t much into being anointed.  How do we think about having Jesus?  How do we understand the fact that we still have the poor?  Can this story and especially this verse still speak to us at all or is it something truly applicable only to those disciples who had Jesus with them for a short time?

It’s important to consider the woman and why she who had such money in the first place chose to spend it that way.  It’s important to understand discretionary spending at that time and not to minimize spending on things that matter to you now.  But I’m still feeling this pull of what we are doing with money and how we two poor people can have a conversation about what to do with the little money I have.

Just pondering.  I don’t have any answers.  Nor do I have any grocery gift cards.  For now, I have only that guy’s name and the ability to say good morning, it is indeed supposed to rain later.

 

When Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease,  a woman came to him with a vase made of alabaster containing very expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ head while he was sitting at dinner.  Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste?  This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”  (Matthew 26:6-9, CEB)

Paul: Apostle of Christ

Greetings of the Easter season to you, Reader!  Today is a fairly overcast and chilly day here at the Wicket Gate, but it is Friday and the Spirit of the resurrection remains while I settle in to make something coherent of my sermon for Sunday.

I hope that these first few months of 2018 have gone well for you.  Thank you for your holding this space (to whatever degree you did; forgetting it existed is totally valid) while I took some time to figure out where my soul went.  It came across the river to the church where I work, it turns out, and we meet from time to time when I remember to tune into the presence of the God Who called me in the first place.  School is still awful, and in point of fact is more awful with each week because I wanted it so badly to be what it is not.  But there are only a few weeks left in the semester, I’m going home to the Land of Pilgrims for the summer, and then I only have one more year.  This, too, shall pass.

In the meantime, I wanted to do a short film review.  On Holy Saturday I went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ because I never stop being fascinated by the marriage of Scripture and Hollywood and y’know, I kinda liked it.

image3One of the first things I had to recognize was that I have learned (whether I have been deliberately taught this doesn’t matter) to be overly critical of anything having to do with Scripture and theology, so the first 15 or so minutes of the film were me trying to remember how to be charitable in watching.  The film is set in Nero’s Rome, where we learn Paul is imprisoned and facing execution.  Luke (who is here a real person who really wrote the Gospel) travels to Rome to get the last of Paul’s stories—what becomes the Acts of the Apostles.  The story swings between the conversations of Luke and Paul, the frustrations of the Roman prison guard, and the small and fearful community of Christians trying to deal with Nero’s war on them and their faith.

I know that a lot of people are not fans of Paul at all, but I have a soft spot for him.  I’m definitely not a fan of some of the things his letters have been used to do—I am a female cleric, after all.  But in this film I give all the snaps for the guy who played Paul; he did it with gravitas and dignity and curmudgeonliness and a bit of humor, which is how I imagine the actual Paul to have been toward the end of his ministry.  And the way they work the language of Paul’s letters into his lines is fantastic; exploring what it must have been like to look back over his life and hold fast to the belief that grace is sufficient, that nothing separates us from the love of Christ, that even Nero can’t stop the Kingdom gave new weight to the words.

The way in which the film complicated the Romans was marvelous (although I hate hate hated the flatness of the prison guard’s wife).  Not all Romans were on board with Nero’s crazy and many understood he was nuts but didn’t know what to do about it.  And not all Romans were cynical about their worship—many were truly devout to their gods.  And definitely not all Jewish leaders were terrible people, so props to this film underscoring and bolding the fact that it was Rome that killed Jesus, it was Rome that persecuted the early Christians, and it was Rome that outlawed the faith.  Not Jews.

Also, holla holla for no conversion moment.  The Roman guard is primed for it, but one of the things that drives me batty about Christian films is that there’s always this weirdly coerced conversion moment to somehow prove the efficacy of the message and y’all, it’s not necessary.  God’s word won’t return void, so you don’t need to include an uncomfortable template for your film audience to understand that we should give this Jesus Guy a go.

There were definitely some things I think weren’t grand about the film:  they really overdid the slo-mo emotional moments and the heavy-handed music, which I get but always irks me.  The story has pathos abounding, you don’t need to help it in post-production.  Women are still only mothers and wives rather than leaders in their own right, but at least they have decent speaking roles now.  The fact that the Jews weren’t being blamed for the plight of Christians was great, but there seemed to be no Jews around to do much of anything.  Where did they go?  We know they were part of the early communities.  And lastly the whole film was dedicated to “those persecuted for their faith,” but I doubt that that extends to all people persecuted for all faiths and I always get a bit squelchy when Christians, mostly American Christians, talk about persecution.  There has never been a time when American Christians were persecuted.  Never.  Not in the whole history of this country.  But sure, the early Christians were, and we need to remember that.  It is good to question how one holds both of those truths.

All in all it was a good movie that made me want to go back to Acts and the letters and read them, which is exactly what one would hope for out of a movie like this.  There was even a great one-liner about the repetitiveness of Acts, which I appreciate.  And Paul has a line to the Roman guard that “you will be fully known and fully loved—I pray for that for you.”

I pray that for both of us, Reader.  And I delight in the example of Paul to do so.  Go see the film if you’ve a free evening—or just read Acts with some inspiring classical music on in the background, if you’re all booked up.  I’ll be back in two weeks with something new, or something old, depending on how you view the ever-appearing examples of this faith thing.

In Hope for 2018

My Advent, Reader, was not much for waiting.  It was, in its own way, much closer the story than the sanitized ecclesiastical season we’ve since created (about which Interpreter had a marvelous sermon on Christmas Eve)—I did not cheerfully put up decorations and hold still, breathing in the presence of the Spirit.  I finished a semester, learned new ways to be frustrated with church, drove some 1,200 miles or so in a week and a half, and gathered the people who know my name to remind me who I’m supposed to be.

I’ve forgotten, you see.

Seminary—no, I can’t blame this entirely on seminary.  Well, divinity school; they are different, actually, though the difference is often more in pride than practice.  There are politics here, as everywhere else.  But here in divinity school I find that my soul is closed.  There are many reasons for this, some of which I’ve related to you and many I have not.  You may have noticed, Reader, in my erratic posting and my rather bleak entries that I’m not quite having the spiritual awakening I was perhaps hoping for.  And that’s the crux of it.  No matter whose or what’s fault it is, I was hoping for seminary—divinity school—to tell me how to live out this call, to teach me what it means for me to be a minister in God’s world.  It has not.

This breaks my heart, to be honest.  I am disappointed, which is a terrible thing to be.  But in being disappointed I’ve allowed myself to also become disillusioned and distant.  I will not survive the next year and a half as these.  I will not survive the next week as these, really, and so in this space where I didn’t finish my Advent series and I didn’t properly wish you a merry Christmas and I’ve not kept to the schedule I promised, I make my new year’s resolution:  to stop waiting for someone else to teach me my call.

I hoped for so much in seminary and here’s the thing:  hope is a stupid, idealistic concept.  Hopes can be broken, shattered, and lost.  Hope is an intangible idiocy that looks at what is and asks but what if; hope is something so often placed in other things and so rarely placed in oneself.  I hoped—but now I find myself having a dance party to The Greatest Showman soundtrack (go ahead, listen to it; I don’t care if you think it’s trite, it’s stirring and inspiring and outrageously full of the best kind of foolish hope) while I pack up my apartment to move yet again, the third time in a year and a half.  This doesn’t count the times I’ve moved for the summer, for Christmas, for whatever where I was just living in someone else’s space; this doesn’t count the fact that 3/4 of my things are tucked away in boxes back in the Land of Pilgrims, waiting for me to return and be a proper adult that doesn’t move so much.  I hoped for so much, and it hasn’t come true, so now I need to sit down with God and figure out where my hopes should go.

advent-wreathAs I pack I’m finally cleaning the books and cards and pencil cases I’ve not touched from this summer’s violation, finding the pack of Newport cigarettes hidden behind the Toni Morrison books and the used Band-Aids stuck to the Garfield cartoon collections.  I’m reading all of these titles I haven’t even really been able to look at as they silently showcased yet more dashed hopes, and I’m realizing that I had so much to work with way before I ever entered divinity school.  God did not call me to school; God called me to ministry.  Don’t get me wrong, Reader, I don’t advocate for anyone who feels God’s tugging to set up shop and be a preacher on the spot.  I understand and support the levels of training and accountability that ordination tracks require.  I will finish this degree, and I will jump through the hoops, and I will learn from people and places that I never would have encountered otherwise.  But I don’t need divinity school to tell me that God is calling me by name, that God is reminding me who and Whose I am, that the wonder I had before I started this at the incredible majesty and absurdity of faith is still there, under the ash that is currently my hopes.

So I’m going to go drag out that wonder and do this for me.  I’m going to hope in great music and small victories and the people across the world who know my name and remind me who I am when I forget.  I’m going to hope in this new apartment even though I am so scared that my hopes for it will be struck down, too.  I’m going to stop waiting for divinity school to teach me anything and start learning it on my own, remembering the part of me that loves to discover and ponder and puzzle.  I’m going to spend time in places that are life-giving and not in places that aren’t, which means I’m going to be pretty scarce at school and pretty constantly at church.  I’m going to admit that I’m afraid of everything I just said I will do, and then do it anyway.

What that means for us, Reader, is that I’m going to take leave of you for a while as I go look for how to do all this.  I know that this sounds like a bad break-up letter and I’m sorry about that.  I’m not leaving this space forever, but I’m taking from now until Easter to look at what my life is and what both God and I hope it should be and measure how far apart those are.  And then, dear Reader, I’ll come back and tell you what might bring them closer.

Christ is born, Reader, and that is amazing.  But on this fourth day of Christmas that just means that we who knelt in that stable must now get up and walk to the empty tomb that changed everything all over again.  Have a phenomenal 2018; fill it with hope, dangerous and outrageous and wild, and let no one stop you from acting in that hope.  I’ll see you in Eastertide.

 

 

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

Advent Week Three: O Tannenbaum

This is definitely one of those songs I don’t think about much at Christmas because I hated singing it when I was growing up.  But it popped up in a service at church recently with decidedly Christian lyrics.  Usually it’s a song about the lovely evergreen that teaches us to keep going, life is ever-renewing, that sort of thing, but this new spin talked about the evergreen as God’s creation and celebrated “how richly God has decked thee.”  The tree, because it’s always around, served as witness to Jesus’ birth and reminds us of the miracle of that renewal as well as showing us how to stand fast in our trust of what God can do.  Okay, I can work with that.

snowy pine trees 1This is originally a German tune from the 16th century—at least, the music is.  The lyrics seem to be as scattered as the needles of such a tree at the end of the Christmas season (don’t tell me you haven’t found them hiding behind the living room hutch in March).  But they all agree on this being a loving serenade of the Christmas tree, the tannenbaum (which is German for “fir tree,” a name we retain even though most modern Christmas trees are spruce).  The concept of the tree as we know it has been around for a while but was cemented into the celebration of the holiday in 19th century England, mostly by the atmosphere that birthed and then celebrated Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Fortunately we no longer put live candles on the tree as the lighting instruments—lot of fires in flammable houses from that practice.

(It’s a little weird to have a song that celebrates the power of living via a tree that we cut down [kill] in order to put in our houses, but no one asked me.)

While I do still dislike the song itself, I really like this new concept of its call to faithfulness for us.  The last stanza (in some versions) has the couplet “Thou bidst us true and faithful be / And trust in God unchangingly.”  Kind of a lot to put on a poor tree, but then the Old English poets wrote a whole thing about the tree that got made into a cross and its thoughts on the matter, so I guess just acting as example is fine.  (It’s called The Dream of the Rood, by the way, and is one of my favorite OE poems.)

Christmas, in the Christian faith, is so much about what God is doing—that’s part of why I like Advent because it’s about what we are doing.  We are waiting, preparing, hoping and dreaming and sighing and living into this ever-renewing promise of life and life abundantly.  Since I’m a person who puts her tree up as soon as possible (but not until after Thanksgiving, of course; mixing the holidays is a cardinal sin), I can definitely count this as an Advent piece.  Like the tree that stays patiently green while the snow and the rain rest on its needles, I wait as my living self in this Advent space for the Christ to be born—although I’m usually a lot less patient than the tree.  After all, I don’t live nearly as long.  (Just so you know, Reader, I’m sparing you from the tangent on Ents that’s going on in my head right now, so be glad of that.)  But I, too, am called to be “true and faithful” as well as green—vibrant, engaged, alive—in the winter.  (That’s a little easier for me than some considering winter is my favorite season, but I think we can both make the metaphorical leap to the wintry times when it’s a little harder to be green.)  I make zero promises as to the trusting “unchangingly” bit, but to return to the God Who has also decked me out pretty richly with the faith that this birth changes everything may be something I can do.

Especially when sitting in the lovely glow of lights on the Christmas tree.

 

Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.  Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.  (Hebrews 10:22-23, CEB)

Advent, Week Two: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

I know, I know, I missed week one.  I’m sorry about that, but glad to inform you that I have finished classes and one of my four finals for this semester.  By Wednesday I will be done done done with this term and that will mark the halfway point of this degree and sweet Jesus but this can’t finish quickly enough.  I’m sorry for both of us, Reader, that this blogging journey into seminary has been so frustrating and sorrowful when the journey leading into that call was so frustrating and hopeful.  We shall see what next semester brings.

On to the song, which you may be rather confused by because this is definitely not a song that makes the list of Christmas CDs or Spotify playlists.  Technically Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is not a Christmas hymn—in the United Methodist hymnal, it’s in the “Eucharist” section (and its connection to that has apparently stirred no small amount of controversy; here’s a really good overview of why tying the Incarnation and the Eucharist together can get tricky, if you’re into that sort of thing).  But it is, in its way, a Christmas song, filled with shock and wonder at the Incarnation.  “King of kings, Yet born of Mary, / As of old on earth He stood, / Lord of lords, In human vesture” begins the second verse.  The whole thing is just flummoxed by the God of everything coming to be in human form and is fairly demanding that we and all of creation stand in the dumbfounded awe that deserves.

It’s a patchwork quilt of a piece:  the lyrics are first found in the Divine Liturgy of St. James from the fourth century, so these words (originally Greek) are about 1,700 years old.  The tune is much newer—only about 400 years old, and the combination didn’t happen until about a hundred years ago.  Positively a toddler in hymn years!  But it has that sort of solemn majesty to it (especially when done with a choir and organ) that comes with a lot of Advent hymns, the weight of it settling on your solar plexus as you realize God was born.

I mean, when I sit down with that fact my mind kind of gets blown, and I’ve been a Christian for at least ten years now.  But at the heart of who we are in this faith is a God Who climbed into human skin, Who saw with human eyes and heard with human ears, Who grew grey hair and had callouses and headaches.  We have a God Who touched things, who felt the roughness of unhewn wood and the chill of cellar-kept wine on His tongue.  We have a God Who stretched newly-formed fingers into the broad palm of His mother and chuckled at being alive and discovering things like toes.

Reader, the Incarnation is SO INCREDIBLY WEIRD.

pia15416-1440x900Because there’s all that and inside that somehow is GOD.  God, Who spoke the Earth into being; Who took a handful of mud and a spare rib and created people.  That God decided sure, Let’s go through the mess of humanizing Myself by putting Myself together one cell at a time in Mary’s womb and then tumbling into the world in a mass of blood and fluid and hay that stuck to everything, screaming to the world that I have come but I can’t talk yet.  That God decided to learn how to walk.  That God wanted to know what hunger felt like, and didn’t go hungry for a day like a vacation but lived as a vagabond and fasted for weeks; wanted to know what pain felt like and didn’t hit His hand with a hammer but allowed Himself to be scourged and beaten.

Because that God wanted to hang out with us so badly that He broke death in half by living.

I don’t…I don’t even know what to do with that information except exactly what this hymn asks:  keep silence.  No freaking wonder “the host of Heaven spreads its vanguard” and “the six winged seraph, / Cherubim with sleepless eye, / Veil their faces to the presence”.  Who can stand in the presence of such love and sacrifice?  Who can say anything other than “alleluia” when faced with such devotion?

Come, fellow mortal.  Journey deeper into Advent with me, following the Baptist who calls out to us that One greater than he is coming—and boy howdy was he right.

 

But the Lord is in his holy temple.  Let all the earth be silent before him. (Habakkuk 2:20, CEB)