Sunday, December 24, 2006
by John Donne
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Awake--again the Gospel-trump is blown --
From year to year it swells with louder tone,
From year to year the signs of wrath
Are gathering round the Judge's path,
Strange words fulfilled, and mighty works achieved,
And truth in all the world both hated and believed.
Awake! why linger in the gorgeous town,
Sworn liegemen of the Cross and thorny crown?
Up from your beds of sloth for shame,
Speed to the eastern mount like flame,
Nor wonder, should ye find your King in tears,
E'en with the loud Hosanna ringing in His ears.
Alas! no need to rouse them: long ago
They are gone forth to swell Messiah's show:
With glittering robes and garlands sweet
They strew the ground beneath His feet:
All but your hearts are there--O doomed to prove
The arrows winged in Heaven for Faith that will not love!
Meanwhile He passes through th' adoring crowd,
Calm as the march of some majestic cloud,
That o'er wild scenes of ocean-war
Holds its still course in Heaven afar:
E'en so, heart-searching Lord, as years roll on,
Thou keepest silent watch from Thy triumphal throne:
E'en so, the world is thronging round to gaze
On the dread vision of the latter days,
Constrained to own Thee, but in heart
Prepared to take Barabbas' part:
"Hosanna" now, to-morrow "Crucify,"
The changeful burden still of their rude lawless cry.
Yet in that throng of selfish hearts untrue
Thy sad eye rests upon Thy faithful few,
Children and childlike souls are there,
Blind Bartimeus' humble prayer,
And Lazarus wakened from his four days' sleep,
Enduring life again, that Passover to keep.
And fast beside the olive-bordered way
Stands the blessed home where Jesus deigned to stay,
The peaceful home, to Zeal sincere
And heavenly Contemplation dear,
Where Martha loved to wait with reverence meet,
And wiser Mary lingered at Thy sacred feet.
Still through decaying ages as they glide,
Thou lov'st Thy chosen remnant to divide;
Sprinkled along the waste of years
Full many a soft green isle appears:
Pause where we may upon the desert road,
Some shelter is in sight, some sacred safe abode.
When withering blasts of error swept the sky,
And Love's last flower seemed fain to droop and die,
How sweet, how lone the ray benign
On sheltered nooks of Palestine!
Then to his early home did Love repair,
And cheered his sickening heart with his own native air.
Years roll away: again the tide of crime
Has swept Thy footsteps from the favoured clime
Where shall the holy Cross find rest?
On a crowned monarch's mailed breast:
Like some bright angel o'er the darkling scene,
Through court and camp he holds his heavenward course serene.
A fouler vision yet; an age of light,
Light without love, glares on the aching sight:
Oh, who can tell how calm and sweet,
Meek Walton, shows thy green retreat,
When wearied with the tale thy times disclose,
The eye first finds thee out in thy secure repose?
Thus bad and good their several warnings give
Of His approach, whom none may see and live:
Faith's ear, with awful still delight,
Counts them like minute-bells at night.
Keeping the heart awake till dawn of morn,
While to her funeral pile this aged world is borne.
But what are Heaven's alarms to hearts that cower
In wilful slumber, deepening every hour,
That draw their curtains closer round,
The nearer swells the trumpet's sound?
Lord, ere our trembling lamps sink down and die,
Touch us with chastening hand, and make us feel Thee nigh.
-- John Keble (1792-1866)
Monday, December 18, 2006
|Yesterday's Gospel reading promised the coming of the Lord with "winnowing fork" in his hand. To my eye, Jesus did not repudiate that picture -- although he complicated it some. And that raises my perennial Advent question: When the Lord returns, what will he be looking for, what will he expect, what will he do?|
Lutherans of a classic stripe seem content with their answer: If you simply allow Jesus to love you, it doesn't matter what you've done, who you are, why you have lived the way you have. As long as you don't put up a big "no" to him, he will usher you into his Father's kingdom.
I, of course, as a Lutheran, don't have total problem with that formulation. But I'm waiting for those "classic-stripe" Lutherans to deal with the Baptizer, the Sermon on the Mount, and all the rest.
I have recently discovered Paul Althaus' classic (I think) little monograph (in the old "Facets" seiers published by Fortress Press), Divine Command. I have happily learned that my view of the on-going validity of the Ten Commandments and of the commands of Jesus toward love of neighbor, justice in the marketplace, and the like has bona fide Lutheran bona fides.
I intend to set out some thoughts on Althaus' thesis in the near future, so for today, I'll simply make a comment and offer a quote. Lutheran talk about "justifiation by grace through faith" refers to "achieving salvation" -- i.e., it addresses what needs to be done to overcome the rift between being human and being acceptable to God. The Lutheran answer, consonant with the whole of Holy Scripture and most of the Great Tradition, is "nothing; God has taken the initiative to love us even in our most profound unlovablility."
Lutherans, unfortunately (and of course, not ALL Lutherans), stop there. All that matters, apparently, is day by day reassuring myself of my personal salvation by repeating the mantra, "I am saved by God's gracious loving act." The question which ought to occupy preachers, teachers, parents, and us is never addressed -- viz., "So what?" or "What are we to do with this?" or "Where do we go from here?" Those are questions of "sanctification" or "growth in grace" or "theosis" (I suppose). And the stereotypical Lutheran response is "Well, it pretty much doesn't matter, because your works don't matter."
That is an inappropriate response to questions of how to live if those questions do not rise out of questions about earning/meriting/keeping God's love, as Althaus makes clear (and as I shall try to explain later) and as this citation from St. Symeon the Theologian (thanks to Pontificator for the reference) also makes clear:
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
|To continue a theme:|
The Theotokos has been revealed on the earth in truth,
-- from the Orthodox liturgy, in Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha (St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984)
Monday, December 11, 2006
Today, I offer this from my favorite Christian poet, the deacon Ephrem of Syria (fourth century). Not only does he get so much right and beautiful, but he testifies to the earliness of the devotion paid to Mary, thereby demonstrating that while various Mary-cults may be a more recent development in Church history -- see Jaroslav Pelikan's book, Mary Through the Centuries -- the propriety of honoring her and even praying to her is not.
“O Immaculate and wholly-pure Virgin Mary”
O Immaculate and wholly-pure Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Queen of the world, hope of those who are in despair; thou art the joy of the Saints; thou art the peacemaker between sinners and God; thou art the advocate of the abandoned, the secure haven of those who are on the sea of the world; thou art the consolation of the world, the ransom of slaves, the comfortress of the afflicted, the salvation of the universe. O great Queen, we take refuge in thy protection: ‘We have no confidence but in thee, O most faithful Virgin.’ After God thou art all our hope. We bear the name of thy servants; allow not the enemy to drag us to Hell. I salute thee, O great Mediatress of peace between men and God, Mother of Jesus our Lord, who is the love of all men and of God, to whom be honor and benediction with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
St Ephrem the Syrian
It is part of Advent's "retting up" to honor His Mother as an aspect of awaiting The Lord's return. (Read the prayer carefully, and you may discover some of the sources of discomfort that force me to re-examine much that I take for granted about the Virgin, too.)