Monday, January 5, 2009

Twelve days of Christmas...

Tonight is Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany when the arrival of the magi is celebrated. It's the end of the Christmas season. As the years pass I am ever more delighted that there are twelve days of Christmas. For no matter how hard I try, the rush to Christmas Eve, with the decorations, celebrations, gifts and their wrappings, letters and greetings, guest lists and cooking always overtakes quieter contemplation of Advent.

But on Christmas Day the myriad details of “must do,” “I hope I can find,” and “oh please, don’t forget” resolve as gifts shed their wrappings and the feast is consumed. Then come twelve glorious days of early morning solitude aglow with tree lights and a dozen candles. With the wonder of the incarnation and its gospel stories still fresh, my inner self comes, coffee in hand, to rest and to revel in the joyous relationship at the heart of it all.

I watch Joseph. Mary, his betrothed, turns up pregnant. “Do not be afraid," cries the angel, "to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20.)

I turn over some fear-filled “pregnancies” in my life: the birthing of my book, or our house of prayer in Turkey. Joseph shows me that to embrace a holy calling one must reject fear to embrace the mystery. For Joseph, the mystery that Mary’s child was of the Holy Spirit. For all of us, that the human can reside in the divine, and the divine in the human in a totally physical, yet totally spiritual unity.

I watch Mary. Gabriel visits her, too, and again, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. … The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:26-38.) “Mary,” says Gabriel, “turn your face full TOWARDS the shekinah glory, a place of terror to be embraced!” “Here I am, the Lord’s servant,” she replies. “Let it be according to your word.”

And then the angel left.

How did that feel, Mary? Relief? “Did this really happen?” It seems a lonely place the angel left you in, bereft of testimony, witness and support. But there would be Elizabeth. Gabriel would also visit Joseph. The shepherds would turn up against a backdrop of angel song. The magi would follow a star to your door.

Finally, I watch Elizabeth and Zechariah as she bears John the Baptist. (Luke 1:57-66.) Luke tells us that when the neighbors and relatives heard she bore a healthy baby in her old age they rejoiced with her.

Just the neighbors, family and friends. Simple people related to her in simple ways.

God had closed Zechariah’s mouth for a season. As soon as He opened it, Zechariah poured out praise and mystery—to those same village neighbors, just family and friends. But now they were filled with fearful awe, and the word spread. Zechariah turned his face full to the shekinah radiance of the Living God, and his hearers moved from human joy at the good fortune of a barren couple to an encounter with divine mystery—a powerful Presence right in their midst.


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