Archive for December, 2012

Advent — always a brisk, brief season — is shorter than usual this year. Christmas Eve is following right on the heels of the fourth Sunday in Advent. Among other things, that means we skip the daily readings appointed for the days following the fourth Sunday: readings designed to prepare us for Christmastide, which is now upon us.

The effect of losing this week in the table of lessons and Psalms is curious. For while Christmas Day shall fall on December 25, as it always does, it feels like Christmas Day is coming like a thief in the night — with a kind of thrill of fear that usually attends a well-rendered judgment.

In this, the abbreviation in the liturgical calendar this year brings out something significant about Christmas. For while Christmas is profoundly comforting, it is not (in the colloquial sense) comfortable. At the Lord Jesus’s first Advent, God did nothing less momentous than judge the world:

This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

Sometimes the most effective judgment is simply to turn the lights on.  Flick the switch in the kitchen and the naughty cockroaches scurry for the dark underbelly of the refrigerator.  Publish the content of the shady backroom deal and the naughty politicians scurry to the comforting darkness of their war rooms and lawyers’ offices.  Let a six-year-old speak simple Sunday School truth to an erudite middle-aged sociologist, and the hedges magically appear like Jack’s beanstalk. Those whose eyes have adapted to see in thick darkness do not take kindly to the curtains going up in the morning.

Yet for all the rage against the arrival of the light, the light, like the little beam from the star Samwise Gamgee saw hanging over Mordor, has found its way into and – simply by being itself – judged the darkness. At that, the thrill of fear, which called us to attention and sobriety, may give way to a thrill of hope.

Happy Christmastide, friends!


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King Lir looked down at me. He seemed as tall as a tree right then, and he patted my head very gently with his iron glove. He said, “Little one, I have a griffin to slay. It is my job.”

* * *
[He] kept petting me with one hand and trying to put me aside with the other, but I wouldn’t let go. I think I was actually trying to pull his sword out of its sheath, to take it away from him. He said, “No, no, little one, you don’t understand. There are some monsters that only a king can kill. I have always known that — I should never, never have sent those poor men to die in my place. No one else in all the land can do this for you and your village. Most truly now, it is my job.” And he kissed my hand, the way he must have kissed the hands of so many queens . . .

Peter S. Beagle, Two Hearts, in The Line Between 37 (2006).

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We jump to take up seats in the kingdom; we shirk taking up crosses. We gratefully confess that God was lifted up on a cross for the sins of the world; we howl protests at his being lifted up as sovereign king of the world. Here we cannot be devoted to the one and despise the other; for when the Word of life was made flesh “take up” and “lift up” were made double entendres. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

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Justice done quietly

“‎The just man justices.”

So says St Matthew’s testimony about Joseph: “Being a *just* man, and unwilling to put [Mary] to open shame, [he] resolved to divorce her quietly.” Joseph needed no trumpet, no public assertion of his right, no open vindication. His justice was as regular, and as quiet, as the intake of breath. Like alms given with the right hand and kept secret from the left, justice done quietly is a most wonderful thing.

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Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

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