Miracles at midnight.

I got my first pair of progressives recently.

Friends who’d already celebrated that midlife milestone warned me to go easy on the stairs. The eye doctor told me to get used to pointing my noise at what I want to look at. And I marveled at the modern miracle of watching TV and reading at the same time.

I had taken for granted the ability to focus on the near and the far simultaneously.

Me and my new progressive specs. (Photo cred: selfie)

I’m currently reading a rather long-haired, transcendentalist-style book by Annie Dillard called Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It’s a book to be read in much the same way I imagine she wrote it…slowly, savoring each word, turning over phrases like she turned over rocks to study entire, unexpected squirming communities of life living beneath them. I’ve underlined and dog-eared half the book (and I’m only half-finished). I love it.

One phrase, in particular, stood out to me today:

“These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.” ~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Considering I’d just spent two hours at the local super store with half of the rest of my town, I was immediately convicted of the fact that I most certainly am not–nor have I been–living in the present. Part of it is the holiday season: no matter how determined I am on December first to have a calm and peaceful month, I always feel stressed by the end of it. Getting three kids through finals, Christmas budgeting and shopping, and my Scrooge-ish tendencies don’t help. The other part of it is the fact that…

…I just can’t reconcile the broken places of the world with the shimmer and shine and fuss and rush and packages tied up with strings.

Maybe you can’t either.

But maybe we don’t have to.

Maybe we’re not supposed to.

It’s hard to see life up close and apart from ourselves. And yet, no matter how many strings of light we hang or gifts we wrap or candles we light, no matter how many Christmas songs we sing or cards we send or Hallmark movies we watch, the broken world is still there. Our broken lives are still there.

No wonder our culture brazenly flings itself at all the distractions of the holidays. It’s a lot tougher to live real and in the present, after all. The present means being still long enough to notice the pain in others and in ourselves. The present means living with the tension of unfinished goals and imperfect loved ones and untied bows.

But the present and the broken, well, that’s where the miracles occur.

And that’s why so many of us miss them.

When we keep ourselves busy, we lack the focus needed to see that love didn’t come when things were fixed up and dressed up and fancy.

Love came to a world of hurt and mess.

Love didn’t come in a sleigh or on a stage or to an audience.

Love came to a girl in a barn.

Love didn’t come on a bright, sunny day.

Love came kindly.

Love came gently.

And love came in the pitch, black night.

It’s not easy to look up from our phones, to give up on the contest to give more, be more and do more in this season. To do so means coming face-to-face with our inadequacies and the dark places in our hearts we’d rather avoid. But to do so means discovering a whole new way of living. To do means seeing joy can co-exist in the near and the far, the past and the future, and the broken and the healed.

Miracles, after all, don’t happen in times of plenty.

Miracles come when we’re at the end of our rope, when there’s not enough oil to keep the flame burning, when there’s not enough of us to go around.

Miracles come at midnight.

My favorite Christmas song lines are from this stanza of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear:

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Rest, dear friends.

The road is weary.

My form is bending low, right along with yours.

But rest anyway.

You just might hear the angels.

Enjoy this beautiful rendition of the song by Sara Groves:

song for Charleston

I know where your sting is, oh,

death, ’cause there is no balm in Gilead

for the trouble we’ve seen today

Lord, tell us You’re bound for Charleston

tell us You’re marching for mercy

tell us You’re coming for

to carry us

home

*****

trouble

What will you call Him this year?

I have a friend who’s an amazing poet who says this Advent has felt much more like Lent.

I don’t know about you, but I feel the same way.

I’ve been overwhelmed this season with the number of friends who are suffering…who have lost friends and family…who are struggling with sickness and despair.

I’m overwhelmed when I see the lonely in hospital rooms…the bruised tormented…the broken crying for relief…the voiceless told to hush.

I struggle because I fear I cannot write about joy without writing about pain. I don’t know if I know how to have one without the other…

…but maybe that’s the point.

What is joy except for the release of despair? What is pain but the reaching for hope? What is loneliness but for the cry for embrace?

What is Christmas but at once the spectacular arrival of a promise and the anguished gift of an only son to a dying world, sent to feel our pain, to hear our loneliness, to drink our despair, to embrace us in the exhale of his last breath?

And so on this Christmas Eve I don’t have answers. I only have a question:

What will you dare call Him?

If you’re happy will you call Him Lord?

If you’re lonely will you call Him Emmanuel?

If you’re desperate, will you call Him Savior?

If you’re a child, will you call Him Friend?

If you’re downcast, will you call Him Hope?

If your life is one battle after another, will you call Him Prince of Peace?

If you’re confused, will you call Him Counselor?

If you’re chained, will you call Him Freedom?

If you’re wandering in darkness, will you call Him Light?

If you’re silent, will you call Him a Song?

If you’re weak, will you call Him Mighty?

If you’ve been broken, will you call Him Justice?

If you’re weak, will you call Him Warrior?

If you’re dying, will you call Him Life?

He is all these things and more, dear friend. My gift to you this Christmas is a prayer…I pray that Jesus Christ meets you in the place in your soul that has no name, no words, no hope. I pray you call on Him, whatever you want to call Him most. He is and can be your Everything.

Listen close, past the bells and choirs.

Look far, past the lights and sparkle.

He is here.

Emmanuel.

God with us.

Alive.

Merry Christmas, friends.

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“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever…The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel,and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders…For a child is born to us,a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.”
Isaiah 9:1-7 (NLT)