The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
— Isaiah 9.2
All grace comes precisely from nowhere—from silence and emptiness, if you prefer—which is what makes it grace. It is both you and yet so much greater than you at the same time, which is probably why believers chose both uprushing fountains (John 7:38) and downrushing doves (Matthew 3:16) as metaphors for this universal and grounding experience of spiritual encounter. Sometimes it is an uprush and sometimes it is a downrush, but it is always from a silence that is larger than you, surrounds you, and finally names the deeper truth of the full moment that is you. I call such a way of knowing the contemplative way of knowing, as did much of the older tradition. (The word “prayer” has been so consistently trivialized to refer to something you do, instead of something that is done to you, with you, in you, and as you.) Then, like Mary, you are ready to give birth. You are ready for Christmas …
— Richard Rohr adapted from “Finding God in the Depths of Silence” Sojourners, March 2013.
Incarnation Begins In Darkness
Darkness is where incarnation begins. The gorgeous texts of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany shimmer with the light that God brings into our midst, as in the prologue to John’s Gospel: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). Yet if we lean too quickly toward the light, we miss seeing one of the greatest gifts this season has to offer us: that the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us. In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the Christ who was born two millennia ago, for the Christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins.
— Jan L. Richardson from Painted Prayerbook
Ready to Be Found
St. Luke, in his version of the Christmas story, begins with shepherds. They are the first to receive the Good News.
Why shepherds? They’re in the background. No one thinks of them out in the fields. But we’re told they have certain qualities. They’re “watchful,” they have to keep watch over their flocks. They have to be ready to swing into action to protect them. They pay attention.
To those who are watchful, angels appear. They will bring news of something that can change everything, something that brings the healing, love, and meaning you’ve been looking for. They speak. They sing. They point to a reality that is born into the world today. The Savior is born. So get up! Go out and find him, because he wants to be found.
Sometimes we have to be like the shepherds. We have to pay attention. We have to listen. We have to be watchful to find Christ, to see how Christ wants to break into our lives. Sometimes we have to be like the angels who point to Christ. We have to bring Christ’s message of love to others. We have to celebrate and sing about what Christ has done for us.
St. John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, once said, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” We could say, “When you’re looking for Christ, bring Christ, and you will find Christ.” Find Christ’s love within you and bring it to others. Suddenly Christ is everywhere.
“Where do you find Christ?” the teacher asked. The girl answered, “After I get up in the morning and before I go down to breakfast, before all the craziness of the day begins, I pray for a few moments in the quiet. I find Christ there.” Then the teacher points to another one: “Where do you find Christ?” The boy answers, “When I see people giving to others who are in need, knowing that they can’t give anything back, but just because they’re generous and loving, that’s where I find Christ.” Another says, “At the dinner we have on Christmas Day when all our family and friends get together and we eat and play games and laugh all night, because it’s Jesus’ birthday.” Not so tough a question after all.
I came across a quote from St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “The God who comes to us as an infant can only be mercy and love.” Every time we look at a Nativity scene, God reveals mercy and love. What happened on Christmas only shows us mercy and love.
This is the time to remember all of that. We remember how our God rejoices and delights in us. So much so that he didn’t want to remain hidden. God didn’t want to leave us alone in the struggles and doubts and questions of life. God came to us in person, in flesh and blood, to be found.
— Mark A. Villano from Time to Get Ready
Keeping Watch in the Night
keeping watch in the night,
close to the grassy slopes,
at home in the darkness, a listening presence
in the midnight emptiness
keeping watch in the night,
terrified by a voice
not heard before,
not supposed to be there
keeping watch in the night,
alarmed by powerful light,
upending their security
but they did not run away
they stayed in the dark
stretched their ears
to the unknown voice
and the voice said:
“do not be afraid.
stay in the dark place
I have wonderful news:
the Birthing you’ve longed for
in the depths of your soul,
has come, oh yes, has come!”
The watchers of the night,
the keepers of the Inner Longing
enchanted by music of the skies,
hurried on midnight feet
and found the One who waited.
unlike what they had they expected
and surprisingly beautiful,
all those night watches,
and the deep Inner Longing,
now they knew
now they knew
— Joyce Rupp from Out of the Ordinary
A Winter Wonderland Psalm
The ancient psalmist plucked his strings
and sang a sentence sprung from you:
“Be still and know that I am God”
Be still, my soul, like a winter landscape
which is wrapped in the white prayer shawl
of silent snow fringed with icy threads.
Sit still, 0 my body, like an icy pond
frozen at attention, at rest yet alert
Be still, my gypsy mind,
from your whirling like a perpetual gyroscope,
constantly restless, ever on the move.
Endlessly you rove on a nomadic quest,
roaming the roads of my Egoland,
visiting its likes and dislikes,
a Disneyland of distorted discriminations.
Ceaselessly you visit its sacred shrines
of self-righteous beliefs
and its numerous forts of fears.
Be still, my being,
so that, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice,
you may, with grace, find the tiny, hidden doorway
that leads to Wonderland.
Be still so that you can discover slowly,
day by day, that God and you are one,
to know in that Wonder-of-Wonderlands
who you really are.
— Edward Hays from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim