God with Us Even in Our Mess

God with Us (even when we are a mess)

 

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us)”.

Mathew 1: 23

 

God with us.

God incarnate. A  God- baby living and growing right here on the dirt of the earth.

All of Christendom stands on this reality. Most of the time I don’t stop to let these words sink into my soul. Mostly I try to put the incarnation into a box that has more appeal.  In a breath I move from God with us, to us with God. It’s a subtle switch but a far more  alluring concept.

I desperately want salvation to mean being whisked up to heaven to float around on clouds playing harps with angels. I want  an escape or at least a world where there is no infertility, no miscarriage, no sudden death, no Aleppo. And I want to be angry with God for not making it the way that I think is best.

But Mathew insists on, God with us. He starts his book out with a painfully tedious genealogy (which I usually skip over if I ever come across it) towards this point.

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, etc. etc. etc.

This year I’ve been reading the Bible stories with my daughter, so some of these names are starting to feel more familiar than ever, some because we read them, others because I carefully edit them out.

Characters like Rahab the prostitute are difficult to explain to a four year old. Then there is Tamar, twice widowed and so desperate for a child that she dresses as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law (who is the kind of guy apparently that frequents prostitutes).  Then the famous King David who takes Bathsheba to bed and when she gets pregnant has her husband  Uriah killed in battle to cover up his offense.

There are good stories too, stories like Ruth, a foreigner brought in and made part of a new people. But none of the stories are simple, few of them are what we would look at today and call “christian”. They are stories of a messy people, of real failures, of genuine pain and this list of names is recorded here so we don’t forget it when we come to this next passage,

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

 

An unmarried  pregnant teen who swears she is still a virgin. Her fiance  deciding whether to call it off quietly or have her publicly stoned (which would have been a reasonable option back then).

God with us. God enters into a  mess that has been growing for generations. He does not rescue us out. He  gives us His Spirit. And in the face of our deepest darkness and our ugliest failures He gives us light.  He so transforms the world that in the simple act of loving another person we see His face and hope begins growing out of every broken place.

This year has left me lonely, I long for more children, for the growth of a church, for a deep sense of community. Still compared to many my griefs have been small. I have stood alongside of friends who have watching their children and parents and grandparents cross over to death. I have seen bodies that I love wrecked with illness.  And I have grown ever more aware of the fragility of the world as I’ve heard the stories of immigrants  fleeing violence, traveling by foot through central America to reach our border.  I want it to be “Us with God,” I want to escape this pain.  All I can do is pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”  And He has come, and is to come and will come again, Immanuel, not us with God, but God with us.

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

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Isn’t that heresy? A Look at The Nativity Gospel of James and other apocryphal Writings

A look at The Nativity Gospel. Liturgy of Life
Salome and the midwife bathing the infant Jesus.

 

 

We have been reading the nativity story out of my daughter’s Storybook Bible non-stop these days, it was already her favorite before the advent season kicked in. After reading it for the 3rd time today I decided to do a little more research into the details around Jesus’ birth.

 

Of course I looked at the versions in Mathew and Luke. But did you know there is another ancient and famous version of this story packed full of juicy details?

 

This story can be found in a document referred to as, The Infancy Gospel of James.

 

Nowadays we have an overwhelming number Christian books which are not part of Holy Scripture, but are widely read and seen as tools which can enhance our faith. Many of these books have been read and tested by different groups or Christians for generations and have been found to be truthful and consistent with historic Christianity.

 

Well it turns out that this isn’t a new concept. In fact there are many ancient documents that were written around the same time as our Bible.  Throughout history they have been used along with Holy Scripture to learn about the Christian life.

 

If you aren’t familiar with it,  The Apocrypha, refers to a set of books written in between the Old and New Testament (these books remain part of the  Catholic Bible but has been removed from the Protestants’).  Recently, reading these books has fallen out of favor. The Apocrypha has somehow gained a reputation among  contemporary Christians as being perhaps heretical or at least suspicious.

 

But historically, it has never been understood this way.  When our Bible was being assembled at the first council of Constantinople in 381 AD, there was controversy over these books.  But those in attendance and most throughout Christian history have understood them to be valuable, just not foundational or verifiable enough to use as a basis for Christian doctrine and so they were left out of the Holy Scripture.

 

While the Infancy Gospel of James doesn’t fall into the time period of the Apocrypha it is understood in a similar way.  It was written around 150 AD (and wasn’t actually written by James, he was dead by then) but the Church fathers, (who at this point were only a couple generations removed from the apostles themselves) accepted this story and the beliefs it implied.

 

It is a gem for sure, in it you will read about Mary’s parents and their miraculous conception in their old age, as well as Mary being fed by angels in the temple.  You will find out about Joseph who was not so happy about being chosen as the husband of this young virgin. And finally about Jesus’ birth including the midwife who checked Mary afterwards and reported her to still be a virgin after her delivery.

 

This story endorses some of the controversial ideas around Mary, for example that she remained a virgin throughout her life.  Of course, this has always been the belief of the Catholic and Orthodox and is an idea that even early reformers like Calvin and Luther agreed to, though it has recently become unpopular (as if believing in perpetual virginity is any odder than believing in a virgin birth at all).

 

This story isn’t part of our Holy Scripture for a reason. It may be that it is  some combination of facts and folklore, truth with some artistic embellishment. Perhaps it was written down after being passed down orally for several generations.  Even still, our folklore speaks powerfully about our history and this story  is part of our Christian heritage.  It is a good read and worth your time this advent. I hope it will make the re-telling of the nativity story with your family more vivid and meaningful even when you are reading it for the fourth or fifth time today. Check it out.

 

Thanks for reading friends and me know what you think.

 

 

To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.

Some Advent Links

advent liturgy of life

 

Well today is the first day of advent.

 

Maybe it is a renewed interest in the liturgical calendar or a search for some deeper meaning in Christmas beyond Black Friday and the shopping mania, whatever it is celebrating advent has gained some momentum in recent years.

 

Now I know that the last thing any of us want is another set of obligations (as if the holiday season didn’t seem busy enough already).  Advent can feel even more overwhelming since many of us are new to these traditions and aren’t even sure where to begin with the celebration.  I’m a total novice here myself but I have smart friends who are great resources.  I hope some of these links and ideas will help you to use this season as a time to gather your family near to Christ in anticipation of His birth and not  overburden you with yet another list of things to do.

 

I thought I’d approach this old school,  I started all my papers in junior high with a definition.

 

ad·vent
/’adˌvent/
noun
noun: advent; plural noun: advents
  1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
    “the advent of television”
    2.  the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.
    noun: Advent
    3.  Christian Theology
    the coming or second coming of Christ.
    noun: Advent

 

So advent is a season, in which we celebrate a notable person, that person is Christ.

 

The mood of advent is anticipation.

 

The colors are deep purples and blues.  It is a quiet time. A time to reflect on our longing for Christ to come into the world. (Christmas then, the 12 days after advent is the time to celebrate that indeed He did come.)

 

Historically advent has been on the sober side, and even included some fasting, it was seen as a time of preparation, a time to remember how much the world needs a savior.

 

It is a challenge for us with the whirlwind of the American Christmas season to know how to celebrate this time well.  Historically the church tried to engage with the world around it and bring Christ into existing traditions in a way that made sense.

 

This has been the approach in our family.  We try to celebrate the parts of American Christmas culture that can help point us to Christ and incorporate a handful of historic traditions that fit into our place and time. We don’t want to be total weirdos but we do want to celebrate this time in a special way.

 

So we will still let our daughter have her picture taken with Santa but at home we talk more about the real person of St. Nicholas and the ways that he loved Christ and served the poor.

 

We will enjoy all of the Christmas music but at home will play more O Come O come Emmanuel rather than  Walking in a Winter Wonderland (which actually works well for us since it is still 80 degrees).

 

We get out or Christmas decorations once advent begins but we will save a few special things to bring out during certain times during advent. Most importantly our baby Jesus will stay hidden away until Christmas eve.  For our family the highlight of the season is placing baby Jesus down into the nativity between Mary and Joseph. It is a reminder of why we celebrate, that our God came to us as a tiny baby.

 

We will totally give gifts at Christmas but we won’t do a lot of shopping. Instead we spend the season in preparation, making soap and granola (I know such a hippie right?) and other treats to send to our family and friends (don’t worry our daughter has plenty of grandparents and aunts and uncles she gets more than her share in store bought gifts too).

 

A few other traditions you may want to try:

 

  • An advent wreath: Usually made up of some evergreen (symbolizing everlasting life) and four candles (hope, joy, peace and love, with a fifth in the center called the Christ candle which is lit on Christmas eve.  This year we bought this kit (on the recommendation of my friend Shannon, check out her advent post here) to roll our own beeswax candles. We will light one new candle every week when we do our evening prayer.

advent wreath liturgy of life

Our wreath is one of those grapevine wreathes from the craft store. I picked up some pine scraps out of the Home Depot Christmas tree scraps and wove them in. I realized I didn’t have a candle holder so I made this little disc out of salt dough.

 

  • An advent calendar: You can pick up one of these on basically every corner these days or you can make your own (seriously the number of adorable advent calendars on pinterest is totally overwhelming).  The whole point of the calendar is mark the days, to add to that feeling of anticipation as we await Jesus’ birth.

 

We have a store bought one. But I thought this was cute for something simple, you just put a marble or stone in one of the holes each day (this is also made of salt dough).

advent calender

 

  • Feast days.  There are a couple extra special days during advent. One is St. Nicholas day which is December 6th. Growing up this was the day that our church would do a service project and gather gifts for kids in need.  St. Lucia Day is December 13th which is popular in Scandinavia. Traditionally the oldest girl wakes up early and feeds the family breakfast (sounds good to me right?) as a way to focus on service.

 

  • Jesse Tree. This can be a smaller Christmas tree, or just a stick where you can hang ornaments, one for each day of advent that each represent different parts of the Christmas story.  I just found this link that has versus for each day which tell the story from the beginning of creation to the birth of Christ. I think we will just read the versus this year, maybe next year we will make some ornaments to go with them.

 

  • Nativity. We have this one, it is indestructible.

We also have this one. Which you can buy here.

 

Cornhusk Nativity-2

 

Some other great resources:

Let Us Keep the Feast: Advent and Christmas. I love this book and learned most of what I know from it. We may be reading through this together next year with the Liturgy of Life reading group.

 

The Advent Book. This is a picture book with an image and a story for each day.

 

A Child in Winter, daily inspiration from Caryll Houselander a Catholic mystic. It has a short meditation for every day of advent and Christmas through epiphany.

A Continual Feast. This has recipes from around the world for the whole church year.

Some great music:

Rain for Roots: Waiting Music. Rain for Roots is great. Not only are they friends of ours but they are excellent musicians who are also moms and decided to start making kid friendly family music.

In the Town of David. Our absolute favorite for advent. Also friends of ours. Like I said, we have great friends.

Hope you enjoy this season and the Christmas season to come.  Looking forward to hearing about how you are celebrating it.

Thanks for reading friends,

 

Erica

To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.