Friday, January 9, 2009

What Am I Doing?!

Though it wasn't necessarily warm today, the sun was just brilliant.  It was a clear, beautiful afternoon and John and I had plans to go to Harpeth Hills where our little Beau is laid to rest, and buy some real estate ourselves.  We also planned to visit Beau's Place and replace the flowers Eric and Kelly had left there a couple of weeks ago.  I thought it would be fun to tie up a little baby trinket among the ribbons on the flowers, so after choosing flowers at the store, I began to shop the baby aisle.  What was I thinking?
No one, no one, should have to shop the baby aisle to find something to put at the graveside of a baby rather than crib-side.  I was so angry and so hurt.  And yet I know full well that I am not the only one who's ever done it or ever will. However, later on, once we reached the grave, it was a comfort to bustle about and make it beautiful again.  It was the least I could do to honor our precious grandson.  It is inside-out and upside-down to have to bury a baby.  Life isn't supposed to be this way!  But, it is, and here we are - pain and all.  

When we shall come hoome and enter to the possession of our Brother's fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings; then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory; and that our little inch of time - suffering is not worthy of our first night's welcome home to heaven.  ~ Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Epiphany Day

Epiphany literally means "to reveal or make manifest."  God revealed His son to the world, shining light into the darkness.  Today, the 12th Day of Christmas, is Epiphany Day, and I'd like to revisit the final story of Christ's Nativity - the day of purification at the Temple in Jerusalem.
"And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."  Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and  blessed God and said, 
"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.  She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem."  Luke 2:22-38.

This is such a fantastic story, for we are seeing the fulfillment of hope from the previous age - as represented by Simeon and Anna - and the hope for the present and coming age, as shown by the prophecy of Simeon and the witness of Anna.  All the Bible tells us of Simeon is that he was righteous and devout, filled with the Spirit and awaiting Israel's consolation.  It doesn't say that he was a priest or a Pharisee or anyone of particular position.  Anna was a woman of even less position, apparently, for she was a longtime widow from the tribe of Asher.  Asher had dwindled significantly in size since the Babylonian Captivity, and her father, Phanuel, bore a Hebrew name denoting 'shame'.  But, even these things showed the good news of Christ's coming to us, for He came to the most unlikely of people, to the least and the last, to Shepherds, wanderers, and those of no position - those in need of a Savior.  This is the Good News of Epiphany!

While searching out art works on Epiphany, I came across so many I liked that it was hard to choose only a couple.  This fantastic story is so beautifully and joyously represented by artists through the centuries, so I've posted an Epiphany tour for you.  Enjoy, and Happy Epiphany!  The Light of the world is revealed!                         Simeon's Moment - Ron Dicianni                     Simeon in the Temple - RembrandtPresentation of Jesus in the Temple - RembrandtJesus presented in the Temple - Unknown childrens' Bible illustratorPresentation of Jesus in the Temple - RembrandtSimeon in the Temple - Julius Schnorr von CarolsfeldThe Presentation in the Temple - Pieter Jozef Verhaghen          Presentation of Christ in the Temple - Quentin VarinThe Presentation in the Temple - Philippe de ChampaigneThe Presentation of Jesus in the Temple - Unknown: Master connected to the Reformation Era writings (Note the depiction of the sword through Mary's soul.)                       Presentation in the Temple - Simon Vouet                                  St. Anna - James Tissot                       The Aged Simeon - James Tissot    The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple - James TissotAnd finally, this beautiful Triptych, The Presentation in the Temple by Rogier van der Weyden, presents the full nativity story from Annunciation to the Presentation.  

Tucked In

42 degrees and raining, raining, raining.  The Tennessee hills are hidden beneath grey cotton clouds, matching the color of the mud in the pastures and all around the barn.  Slippery, boot-sucking mud.  

In the barn, the horses are tucked away in their stalls quietly munching hay while the rain drums on the tin roof.  Steam rises from their warm, wet backs and all is well in the world of horses and barns.

In the house, the dogs have scarcely stirred.  Don't we humans know it's time to hibernate?

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
11 Pipers piping,
10 Lords a leaping,
9 Ladies dancing,
8 Maids a-milking,
7 Swans a-swimming,
6 Geese a-laying,
5 Golden rings;
4 Calling birds,
3 French hens,
2 Turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree!
One of the Christmas traditions in our family is to draw parts and sing "The 12 Days of Christmas."  It's lots of fun and not easy to do - you can lose your place pretty quickly!  We like to sing it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but it would probably be a good idea to sing it during the 12 days leading up to Epiphany.  
There are some who say that the song contains Biblical illusion for each of the objects of the song.  For example, 2 turtledoves would indicate the Old and New Testament, and 4 calling birds denote the 4 Apostles, but whether they do or not, it's still a great song.

During the 12 days of Christmas leading to Epiphany Day, Christian tradition reminds us of the continuing story of Christ's nativity; the gifts of the Magi, Herod's slaughter of the innocents, and the Temple visit.  Many songs in ages past have been written about these events and perhaps none grip our hearts so sharply as those that commemorate the slaughter of the Innocents.  King Herod, after hearing the report of the Magi that a King had been born, was so jealously obsessed with his own rule, that he deemed no other king would exist besides himself; so he issued to edict that all infant boys under the age of 2 were to be killed and sent his minions to perform the deed.  "Thus was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 'A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."  - Matt.2:17-18.  These innocent babes became the first of the Martyrs.  Yet despite all that man can and will do to try to thwart the purposes of God, His purposes cannot fail.  Emmanuel, God with us, was revealed to the world to bear the sins of the world, to redeem the world to the Father.  And that is the good news of Epiphany!
The Venerable Bede (673-735) wrote a hymn honoring Christian martyrs entitled "A Hymn for Martyrs Sweetly Sing".  The following verses remind us of those first young martyrs:

A hymn for martyrs sweetly sing;
For Innocents your praises bring;
Of whom in tears was earth bereaved,
Whom heaven with songs of joy received;
Whose angels see the Father's face
World without end, and hymn His grace;
And, while they praise their glorious King,
A hymn for Martyrs sweetly sing.

A voice from Ramah was there sent,
A voice of weeping and lament, While Rachel mourned her children sore,
Whom for the tyrant's sword she bore.
After brief taste of earthly woe
Eternal triumph now they know;
For whom, by cruel torments rent,
A voice from Ramah was there sent.

And every tear is wiped away
By your dear Father's hand for aye:
Death hath no power to hurt you more;
Your own is life's eternal shore.
And all who, good seed bearing, weep,
In everlasting joy shall reap,
What time they shine in heavenly day,
And every tear is wiped away.
Another song commemorating this sad event is one better known to us, "The Coventry Carol".  This carol is actually part of a Medieval Mystery play that was performed in Coventry each year on the Feast of Corpus Christi.  The carol is sung at the part of the play where the mothers are singing lullabies to their babies in an attempt to put them to sleep so that Herod's soldiers won't find them.  

"Lullay thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully,lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Oh, sisters, too, How may we do
For to preserve this day,
This poor youngling for whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay?

Herod the King in his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might in His own sight
All children young to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say
For thy parting neither say nor sing:
"By, by, lully, lullay."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Epiphany Sunday

Epiphany literally means "to reveal" or "to make known".  It is celebrated on January 6th and is the culmination of the 12 Days of Christmas.  Traditionally during this time, Christians remember the story of the Magi who recognized the significance of the signs and times, who journeyed far to find the Christ child and worshipped Him, bringing Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  A well-known Christmas song, The First Noel, is actually an Epiphany song which tells the story of the Magi:

"And by the light of that same star, three Wise Men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent, and to follow the star where'er it went.

This star drew nigh to the northwest, over Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those Wise Men three, full reverently upon the knee,
And offered there, in His presence, their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

God had revealed and made known the eminent arrival and birth of His son first through the angel Gabriel's announcement (Luke 1), then through the Virgin's song (L.1) and the angelic announcement to the shepherds (Luke 2), and finally to the wise men of the East by the appearance and guidance of a star (Matthew 2).  The Light of the World was made manifest in a world full of darkness and pain, sin and sorrow, and that is the Good News of Epiphany.
 In years past, once Christmas Day was over at our house, Christmastime itself was over and it was time to pack it all away until next year.  But it always seemed like something remained, that the holiday had not had a proper conclusion, and that let-down feeling was hard to shake even though we'd enjoyed Advent and Christmas fully.  But in the past 2 or 3 years, we've had the joy of learning to continue the celebration during the 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany.  There are still many things from the Christmas story to celebrate and to continue to meditate upon:  the Magi, Herod and the slaughter of the Innocents, the purification of Jesus and Mary in the temple and the words there of Simeon and Anna.  Such significance and richness deserves and demands our attention.  

I'd love to share with you the Epiphany traditions we've developed both at home and at church, but I think I'll save that until another Christmastime, for this year we've contemplated the season in another profound way.  The birth and death of our grandson, Beau, our own flesh and blood, has forever changed us and the way we think and feel about things.  Through Beau, the Lord has brought us closer to Him and, hopefully, to a better understanding of redemption.  We cannot read the Christmas and Epiphany stories without thinking differently about another Baby who came to die and of another mother whose soul was pierced.  We are forever changed.

Recently a friend shared a poem she'd read by Bethany Hudson on her website The Apple Cider Mill.  Bethany's cousin had lost a baby just before Christmas and she wrote the poem as she, too, pondered the paradox of Christmas.  With Bethany's permission, I have reprinted this beautiful and poignant poem for you. 

by Bethany Hudson

The week before Christmas, 
I got a call from New York.
Expecting Christmas greetings
or questions about presents,
I was surprised to hear my mother's 
voice so somber-sad
as she told me,
"Jenny lost the baby."

"It was a little girl.
The cord wrapped around her neck.
They had to take her.
She didn't make it.
It's very private.
Jenny and Michael seem to handling things well.
I hope this won't distress you."

To be honest,
I was too shocked for distress.
I just kept thinking,
How could God let this happen?
How could this baby,
due in January,
meet her death before her birth?
How could God let this happen?
And why now?
At Christmas?

Over the next few days,
I found myself thinking more about
Easter than Christmas:
more of death than birth.
And somehow in this mystery
of incarnation,
I found peace
for the mystery of this loss.

It still doesn't make sense.
But, I know how it could happen.
It's all happened before.

The manger doesn't seems so peaceful to me now.
Instead of a silent night,
I see Mary bellowing in pain,
Joseph trembling in fear,
wondering, would this baby live?
In blood,
on straw shared with animals,
our God was born
into a world that sought his death,
and the wiseman brought him myrrh.

Such a strange and morbid gift.
What must Mary have thought?
Did she ponder it in her heart?
That gift of myrrh at birth,
a birth already meant for
early death upon a cross?
Did she wonder what it meant?
Or, did she know?

And, as we drink our eggnog,
sing our carols,
light the tree,
do we consider what
is coming
when winter dies
and spring gives birth?
Do we think about
this baby boy,
born in a barn,
as the savor
who will die so young?

This Christmas, my cousin
will understand the gift of myrrh,
as she buries her hopes and dreams
in a tiny coffin.
As she grieves, 
she will recall the birth 
of another baby
whose mother's joy gave
way to mourning.

Gold for the King.
Frankincense for the priest.
But, myrrh for the mother,
whose heart would break
with the body of her son.

Myrrh for a birth
married with death,
but death conjoined
to life, through resurrection.
By His birth, 
His death,
He has purchased our salvation.
And, by His birth,
I may find peace 
in the death
of a baby girl.
Through this Christ,
we may find peace
for any pain we find in life.

This is the gift of myrrh.