Saturday, December 26, 2015

Awe in the Familiar

Awe in the Familiar
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 27, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 2: 9-20

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

I typically put titles on my sermons when I do the bulletin, and that title gives me some guidance, based on what I've been thinking and studying all week, about where my sermon is heading. I didn't realize when I came up with this title for this sermon, "Awe in the Familiar" that it comes on the heels of my last Sunday Sermon, "Joy in the Mystery," which is kind of an ironic, unintended coincidence, of looking at both sides of this coin, we call Christmas. There is much that is mystery, or at least should be mystery, but there is also so much that is familiar. The real trick is to be able to find the mystery beyond the facade of the familiar. I want to try to look deeper into familiar things today, the story and the songs, to see what we miss when we go through the typical motions of routine.  We know the songs, we know the stories, most of them by heart, and if we like Linus, were asked what Christmas is all about I think we could probably recite this story, Luke 2: 8-20 by heart, much of it word for word. I'm going to read it slow, and I'm going to read the King James Version, close your eyes while you listen, and see if you can anticipate each next word that comes. Here it is, the shepherds, the angels, the manger:
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. [1]

Could you anticipate most of it? Did you hear anything new? Did reading at a slower pace help you to capture some of the details more clearly? At the Blue and Gray service I brought out and focused on the idea of the shepherds being "sore afraid," that jumped out at me newly. And I found that it doesn't mean that the fear causes pain, but that sore means extra, more, intensely, and that the Greek original is actually the idea of fear repeated, Phobia, Phobia, as Greek often does for emphasis, and paired with the adjective "mega," which even in English means big. At Christmas Eve I was struck by the parallel of Manger, which is something to eat out of, something that animals eat out of, and how interesting that is when you think about Jesus claiming to be the Bread of Heaven and the Bread of Life in John's gospel as we saw this past year, and that we are to eat of his flesh, in John 6: 51-52, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” How much foreshadowing is it, for communion, and for so much more that he would find his first bed to be a place where lowly animals feed. Does it all suggest that we are to humble ourselves to kneel and eat, beside our animal brothers? And that is what I mean about finding the awe in the familiar. How many times have I read the story, heard it sung, thought about manger, but never made that connection, but I have now, and I'm in awe of it, the tightness of it all. The thing that jumped out to me this time around was that the shepherds got done seeing Jesus and told everybody, that they were not just the first witnesses of Jesus, but the first witnesses for Jesus, the first evangelizers, out spreading the good news.
And that leads me to take a look at some of the carols. Some of them merely tell the story, like the First Noel. There isn't much to that one. . . shepherds, then wisemen three, reverently bending upon their knee. It just poetically goes through all the details. There are many like that, but there are others that really espouse deep theological meaning. Like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" which is part Ode, part Lullaby, it starts with singing about the streets and the light and the night, but then contains a line like, "The hopes and fears of all the years met in thee tonight." How interesting? How deep? How meaningful? Hopes and fears, of all the years, before and all the years between then and now, and all the years to come. . . hope and fear, those two ideas are central to the Biblical message. In many ways they are two sides of the same coin because the focus on the future. Our hopes looking at the future, and our fears worrying at the future, both met in the coming of Jesus Christ. . . Powerful.
Another one is "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," which goes along pretty basic at first with a simple message about peace, but then you get:
And 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
Rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.

Again, wow! To the point, beautiful, poignant. A recognition of the plight of human beings everywhere, the crushing load of life, how it bends forms low, from toil, painful steps. . . but there are golden hours that coming, where we can rest from our weariness, and simply hear those angels singing. . . so much is there, and that echoing angels song is a powerful repeated motif throughout many Christmas Carols. The fourth verse of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" shows a major theme, in that it isn't just the angels who sing, but instead the entire world of Creation, landmasses, animals, plants, even we, join the angels in the song.
When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendours fling
And the whole world send back the song, which now the angels sing.

That sentiment is echoed in Joy to the World with, "heaven and nature" singing, and "while fields and floods, rocks hills and plains, repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat, the sounding joy." Another is in "Angels We have Heard on High" where you have "And the mountains in reply, echo back their joyous strains." The kids have a book that we have read a bunch of times this Christmas season called "The Song of the Stars," where all of creation seems to echo the idea, "It's time, It's time." When I read it both Coralee and Clara can't stop saying, "It's time. It's time." Then finally, "it's time, he's come, he's here." All of creation sings it in that book. It is one of the great themes of Christmas. All of the world singing out in celebration over Jesus' birth.
Another of the great themes of the Christmas Carols is the incarnation, that God is becoming human to be near to us, to be one of us, to experience life, with all of its burdens just like we do, especially the vulnerable innocence of childhood. . . it is a powerful image, and one ripe for poetry because that meekness, that mildness is self imposed.  The almighty, sovereign, sole creator of the entire universe becomes a meek and mild baby. Listen here from "Once in Royal David's City,"
Jesus is our childhoods pattern, Day by Day like us he grew.
He was little, weak, and helpless; tears and smiles like us he knew.
And he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness.

Right there in a hymn about his birth is brought out some of the great theological idea surrounding Christ and his dual nature of human and divine. It's also found in "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" where in the third verse we sing, "Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to rise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth." You have there all of the glory of the birth Hymn in Phillippians:
though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7     but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. [2]

It is all there even at the beginning, in all these familiar hymns we know so well, but sing without thinking about. Even our own spiritual transformation that comes with the relationship we are forming with Christ. In the sweetest of lullabies, "Away in a Manger" you have it with "Fit us for heaven to live with thee there." Change our hearts O God, mold us, shape us, we are clay for you, mold us as a potter does with his hands. Again it's all there.
To me though, Christmas is "O Holy Night" and the words of that powerful song, make the season. You've heard it sung, and it's voluminous melody and strongly voiced notes can echo and mesmerize the ear, but do you hear the words? In closing this morning, I want to simply read them, to once again let us find the awe in what is so familiar:
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!


[1]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.) (Lk 2:8-20). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Php 2:6-8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Bread of Heaven in a Manger

The Bread of Heaven in a Manger
Written December 24, 2015 
for performance at the Christmas Eve Service 
 Gordonsville Presbyterian Church

Great men have searched, near and far
Solving riddles, chasing starts,
And what they seek, above all else
Is life beyond themselves,
Life beyond themselves.
Is he just a fountain of youth,
This man we call the way and the truth,
The goal of some ancient quest
A myth like all the rest,
A myth like all the rest?

The shepherds stood in the field at night
When all at once a wondrous sight,
Said, "Go and seek the king of kings
In a manger sound asleep,
A manger sound asleep."
They must have wondered how this could be,
What a marvel just to see
The Child of God in slumber deep
In a trough where creatures feed
A trough where creatures feed.

The child, of course, grew up and then,
He died on the cross to save all men,
A sacrifice to us was given,
He said his body is the bread of heaven.
His body is the bread of heaven.
He broke bread said, "Of me partake,
Remember always the choice I make,
Like the manna that God had given
I am the bread of heaven.
I am the bread of heaven.

So of course it now makes perfect sense
When we see it from the distant lens
This child who, the shepherds saw
Would be laid in the creature's trough,
Laid in His creature's trough.
So, let's bend the knee for the feast,
Humbly beside our brothers beast,
It's not for holy or perfect men,
But those burdened by sin,
And we're all burdened by sin.

Great men still search, near and far,
Misreading riddles, blind to stars
And what we seek above all else
Is life beyond ourselves.
Life beyond ourselves.
He is more than just a fountain of youth,
No he's the way , the life, and the truth,
He made all life beyond himself
He gives us life beyond ourselves
The sacrifice for life was given
Christ is the bread of heaven

Sunday, December 20, 2015

O Come Emmanuel (Special Advent Service)

O Come Emmanuel
An Advent Service with Christmas Juxtaposed
Written by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
For Gordonsville Presbyterian Church
December 20, 2015

What follows is a pattern where Old Testament Scripture is read, a verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is sung, a brief poetic meditation written by Rev. Atkinson is read, and then a Christmas Carol is sung by the congregation or musical solos and groups (We used Christmas Lullabies when we first held the service, which are shown here). The Christmas Carols work as a celebratory and faith filled juxtaposition from the cynicism of the poetic meditations, showing the contrast between Advent and Christmas

First Old Testament reading
Lamentations 3: 49-58

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

We mourn because we are in exile.
We are in exile because of Sin.
We mourn because we are captive.
We are made captive by Sin.
We mourn because we are still waiting.
We, though we wait, have lost all hope.
We have lost hope because we do not  believe anymore.
Waiting is as good as any other pastime
When sin has stolen your faith from you.
Exile, Captive, Waiting, Sin.
We have seen too much.
How much is the ransom anyway?
What do such things cost anyway?
Our payments have bounced,
Marked insufficient.
How can someone in such a state rejoice?

Christmas Carol
"What Child is This?"

Second Old Testament Reading
Psalm 19

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Do we see order in the chaos,
When the only constant
Is conflict, the only truth
Is owned, wielded, and created by the strong?
The strong push the weak along those ancient paths.
We know such things, and all there is to know
Is such things.
We look at what our world teaches,
And we internalize the knowledge
Of such things.
If two trees grow side by side,
And one tree begins to grow taller,
Leaving the other behind, below,
In its shade,
Tangled in its roots,
Strangled apart from the resources needed for growth,
That tree doesn't think of the other,
Why should it?
Its point of view is to grow, period,
Regardless of the other
Puny weak meek shell of tree.
Why should we be any different?
How could wisdom be any else?
On high?
There is always high and low,
And those caught in the middle.

Christmas Carol
"Away in a Manger"

Third Old Testament Reading
Exodus 20: 1-20

O come, O come, thou Lord of might, 
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height 
In ancient times gave holy law, 
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

We know laws, we love laws,
Those measurements of minimums,
Those requirements of enough.
We love the fence that laws build.
In and out, sinner and saint,
Jew and Gentile,
The more laws the better,
For then transgression becomes the norm,
And then we can pick and choose,
Focusing on the other,
What they do,
No mirrors are necessary.
I've done enough now to point my finger,
And can go to sleep in peace,
Judging myself done.
All awe is lost because now we know.

Christmas Carol
"Still, Still, Still"

Fourth Old Testament Reading
Isaiah 11: 1-10
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan's tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Assyrians showed us from the North,
The Babylonians from the South,
But they were nothing compared to the Persians,
Who proved to be less great than Alexander,
And he died way out in India somewhere,
But then came the best, Rome.
Surely their power is complete.
Surely their power is absolute.
Surely their power is all there is.
They'll kill you, you know,
And when they do, those Centurions,
They are effective, efficient,
And so you surely will die,
And when you do you'll stay dead.
They are good at such things.
They've learned from the best
Of all that has been so far.
What is, is all there is,
And all there is, is all there ever will be,
All there ever can be,
All there ever must be,
So let it be written,
So let it be done.

Christmas Carol

Fifth Old Testament Reading
Psalm 89: 29-37
O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

God said he would never forsake us.
God said he would never leave us.
God said that David's reign would never end.
There was a covenant, and a promise.
What good are such things?
The snake told us years ago that God
Runs free and loose with the truth.
Let there be light, all I see is darkness,
For there may have been a path through the sea,
Through desert,
Into the land,
And it may have flowed with Milk and Honey, once,
But no more.
The throne is empty.
The temple is gone.
David? Forever? Hmmm,
Forever's time ran out long ago.

Christmas Carol
"O Little Town of Bethlehem"

Sixth Old Testament Reading
Psalm 139: 1-12

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadows put to flight. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sure the sun rises every morning,
But each day ends
Just like the rest in darkness.
All lives end the same.
Even in midday we know the darkness is coming,
And in midlife,
Already the dread,
The worry,
The fear,
Our doom dwells fully in our minds,
The bell, that final bell, it tolls for us all.
It just is, it just must be, it just is
Eventually the sun's cease comes,
And darkness falls
In eternity,
To eternity,
Forever, darkness, forever.

Christmas Carol
"Cradle in Bethlehem"

Seventh Old Testament Reading
Haggai 2: 4-9

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

I do not wish to be bound.
No bind them,
Leave me free to be
As I choose to be.
There is freedom in division,
What good is one?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,
What about me?
That is the sum desire of the nations,
What about me?
How could there ever be one,
And all be fulfilled?
How could there ever be one,
And all be free?
How could there ever be one,
And all be full in identity?
Such things can never be,
Such things will never be,

Christmas Carol
"Silent Night"


Closing Meditation

And then you came,
No trumpets, no fanfare,
No army, just you,
The true creator of all that is
In the middle of the night,
In the fullness of darkness,
In the middle of the winter,
In the frigid fullness of the cold,
In the middle of the Roman Peace,
Held tightly by an iron might,
Strong soldiers,
And the perfectly practical efficiency
Of all the knowledge of true worldly wisdom,
Ironic to say the least,
Certainly humble,
Stable, shepherds, and all,
Somehow you flipped it all upside down.
If such things are, though,
There is hope
because if such things are,
There is transcendence,
Truth can't be owned, wielded, or used,
But must be sought,
With the thirst of the desert,
We must seek constantly
Into the very mystery of things,
The mystery of this world,
And just what binds it together really.
And if such things are,
We can rest from our weary rebellion
Because it has gained us nothing
But misery
And ignorance
And division
And brokenness
And oppression.
Love is what is born in that stable,
And love flips everything
Inside out
Last to first
Me to you
Darkness to Light
Death to Life
The cynical songs of knowing
To heartfelt hymns of seeking,
Resounding infinite
Like Love must be
Echoing free
Like Love has always been
Repeating eternal
Like Love is,
The chorus again, still, and anew:
Rejoice, Rejoice, Immanuel,
Has come to thee O Israel.
In the fullness of time,
God's promises prove true,
As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be.

Hallelujah. Amen. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sore Afraid

Sore Afraid
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 19,  2015
for the Blue and Gray Christmas Service
Sesquicentennial Celebration
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Isaiah 40: 1-8
Luke 2: 1-14

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For thine eyes show the way
            Thy mind knows the truth
            Thy being is the life.

 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

So we've come to this old story again, and it does not ever change. We have the long road to Bethlehem, the trip inspired by Imperial Decree, from Caesar Augustus himself, come, show up and be counted. There is still no room in the inn, and Mary lays the Christchild, newly born into our world, Immanuel, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings in a lowly manger, in a stable, amidst the sheep and cattle, and the shepherds are out abiding in the fields as they are like to do on a night such as this, and everything is peaceful and regular, as it should be, all until, one angel comes with the glory of the Lord, and the angel says fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And the sky opens up with the heavenly host singing and praising, with a bright light, And then those shepherds come, and then a star appears overhead beckoning wisemen from the east. The story has been the same for more than a thousand years, and it was the same almost a hundred years ago when our nation was formed, and it is the same today when division has reared its ugly head, tearing our land asunder. It is true that the story never changes, but we do, and every year we come to it anew, with new ears, new eyes, a new mind, in new circumstances, and with all the newness in ourselves, we see something new, something new jumps out at us, that maybe, just maybe we have never noticed before, or at least had never seemed quite so important as it does now. And perhaps for me it is the world we live in with all the uncertainties of war, of civil war even, where the foundations of life, the things we've counted on, and taken for granted all our lives have been torn apart. Maybe that is what made me notice new language. . . sore afraid.
It is an interesting phrase for sure. I was wondering what does it mean to be sore afraid. It is a strange combination of words. Does it literally mean, so afraid it hurts, so afraid that you are sore? and if so why would the shepherds be that? What would be so frightening about an angel that it would make you sore. . . startled yes, amazed yes, mesmerized yes, intimidated yes, but sore? Not sure. I've been afraid, I've been paralyzed by fear. . . where you literally cannot move. Your stuck, frozen, can't go forward, can't go backward. . . I think if an angel came to me in the middle of the night, that would be my reaction, frozen afraid, but sore afraid? I did some word study and found that this use of sore is used often in the Bible, and it doesn't suggest pain in its other uses either, just intensity, Judges 15:18 has "sore athirst"  Genesis 43 talks about a "famine, sore in the land", often in the Psalms too, like Psalm 6:3 being "sore vexed" or Psalm 118:13, "sore thrust" like of a sword, or Psalm 55:4, "my heart was sore pained." In our understanding of that word it would be redundant, you could just say my heart was sore, or my heart was in pain, but sore pained. . . you see it just means intense pain, an intense vexation, an intense famine, and intense thirst, or thrust. . . and so it simply means that the shepherds were truly truly afraid. And if we were to study the original Greek, that is what we get. Afraid, doubly, even triply because it has the word Phobos in two different forms, and then it is matched with the word Megas. . . mega, fear fear. . . yes that is truly intense fear.
And that makes sense, not in the pain type way, but an angel intruding into your peaceful night's rest, as you watch guard over your sheep would be that kind of terrifying. There would be the initial shock, the noise, the light, the otherworldliness of the whole event, but then would come the realization that this is truly significant, and you would search your soul for what it could possibly mean, and why now, why you, what does it have to do with me, I am simply a shepherd, minding my own business, the doubts would creep in, what have I done, is this bad for me, am I worthy of such events? And then the Angel says, "Do not be afraid." And so it begins, Jesus' life comes into our world and causes fear. It is a major part of the story because Jesus says again and again throughout the gospels, all four of them exactly what this angel says here, "Do not be afraid," and the angel says it earlier in Luke to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid." Do not be afraid for I will calm the storm. Do not be afraid It is I. Do not be afraid I am risen. Fear not and do not be afraid is actually found throughout the Bible, throughout scripture, the old and new testament 365 times. . . one for every single day of the year, which is quite convenient really, for we need it.
As I said this piece of the story jumped out at me this year differently. Maybe it is because we have much to fear. The world we live in is very different, and changing rapidly, violently so, this is Christmas in War, war against our brothers, against ourselves, against what used to be one, has now become divided, and we have to wonder what victory looks like, what does defeat look like? Is it just a war that will go on and on, a rivalry that will never know an end, if the split is permanent, perhaps it will result in constant tensions forever. But what if the war takes the other path, is reconciliation even possible, can reconciliation be possible through force of arms? Will the divisions ever heal, is such healing possible? Days like these it is hard to tell, and I find myself sore afraid when I think about the future.

But then I think about, what if I were a shepherd and the angel were to come to me, on a night like tonight, what would they say. . . I can bet that the first words out of their mouth would be, "Do not be afraid," and they would mean much more than simply the initial shock of the encounter, to a much more holistic and holy call to leave behind out fear. We must remember that if Jesus comes into our midst, as he does at Christmas, then we have much to build our faith on, a great foundation of truth, and promises, and covenant, and he does, the story does not change, only we do, and no matter how much we change, no matter how many years go by, no matter how many new challenges we face, battles we fight, wars pull us apart, the story remains the same, so too does the message, do not be afraid, it doesn't matter what day it is, Christmas day or any day, the message is the same, Do not be afraid, for I bring you great tidings of joy, the promise is the same, though our world seems to turn, Christ has come into it, and is with us, and will be forever, and ever. Such is the promise of Christmas, such is the promise of the angels to the shepherds, such is the promise of God to us, yesterday, today, tomorrow, Christmas day and everyday, Do Not be Afraid, for I am. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Daddy's Promise (A Child at Night)

Daddy's Promise (A Child at Night)
For Coralee, Clara, and Susanna when they dream. . . 

Sweet dreams, I pray unto you, child,
May they be winsome, wondrous, mild,
Pleasing to your mind with fairies styled,
All pink and flowered dressed.

May your mind throughout the dark of night
Be bathed in the beauty of pastel light,
That nothing to your mind affright,
So you can get your rest.

May your dreams be holy pleasant things,
The joy of never ending springs,
The sweetest song the sparrow sings
Because she knows she’s blessed.

May you dream of all the tales of old,
Of secret jewels, and buried gold,
Of lovely wonders to behold,
Like faithful knights on quest.

May your hopes be ever there fulfilled,
In visions sweet and candy frilled
The faith your mom and I instilled
In teachings we’ve impressed.

But when the light has gone away,
And the silenced fears of day,
Rear their heads and want to play,
A most unwelcomed guest.

Those monsters looming in your mind
As ghostly fears of every kind,
And you wonder what on Earth you’d find
Hiding behind the toy chest.

While in those dreams you wail and moan
At the secret world your mind has shown,
But just as you feel you’re all alone,
Remember Daddy’s request.

Though all alone you surely seem,
I will hear your slightest scream,
And be there beside you as your dream
Fades slowly in the mist.

Though Queen Mab has her darker charms,
You're safe and secure from her nightly harms,
When you are held in your Daddy’s arms,
As all yester-nights attest.

Yes, child, when the darkness does appear,
And you are overcome with fear,
Always know, child, I am near,
And will hold you to my breast.