Sunday, December 27, 2009

Spirit of Christmas

This is a song I wrote several years ago. A musical version may be found on my "Living Stones" CD. I share the words in hopes that you continue to be blessed during the Christmas season as we turn our eyes toward the new year.

Spirit of Christmas, O come to us
As you came to the wise men of old,
As you came to the shepherds who found their way home
In a manger, so loving a fold.

Spirit of Christmas, you came to us
As a mother and father, so kind,
Surrounded the babe with a blanket of love
That the world, so hopeless, would find.

For God sent the Son to reveal to the people
A love unlike that which was known.
The Spirit of God came down from above
That we might be brought from below.

Spirit of Christmas, O come to us
As we follow our Morning Star,
Our minds be uplifted, our hearts rejoice
In discovering whose savior you are.

Spirit of Christmas, O come to us
As we seek to bring life to the world.
Abide in our hearts, let us rest in your care,
That the Spirit of love be unfurled.

Copyright 1994 Stephen P. West, all rights reserved

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not Incognito but Incarnate

You’ve heard it a hundred times. Every year at Christmas, we retell the angel Gabriel's promise that Mary will have a child named Jesus. Every year we are reminded that it was a virgin birth. Mary was engaged but not married. Yawn. Same story. On to the shopping.

But if we pause to ponder how powerful the virgin birth is, we might find that this simple detail in our sacred story is a key to unfolding a deep mystery. Christ was conceived of God and of woman. The divine came to live and dwell among us. We’re talking real flesh and blood. The incarnation means that God came not incognito but in “carnate” - in the flesh.

Don’t yawn about this one. Ever since the tower of Babel, we have tried to get a handle on God. We’ve tried to clutch and take hold of the divine. We’ve tried to transcend ourselves but we can’t. That’s why God came to us. The divine became human because the human just couldn’t grasp the divine.

I wonder how many Christians have embraced the power of the cross and even live in the victory of the resurrection but have forgotten the mystery of the manger.

We tend to think of God like we think of our pocketknife. We carry him around with us, pull him out when we need him, and hold him within our grasp. Some even think we’ve got the ability to dispense God’s power if we pray just right. How presumptuous Christians in North America have become! We’ve twisted faith to conform to our culture of functionality and control mentality.

When we develop that kind of spiritual arrogance, we have forgotten what it means to be human and in need of grace. Spirituality starts with the fact that we are less than God. We can’t use Jesus to “get what we want out of life”. The raw truth is that without God, we are a broken, hurting, lonely bunch of people with nowhere to go. As hard as we might try, we’ll never get a handle on God.

That’s why God came to us. The divine became human. An ancient theologian said, “he became what we are so that we might become what He is.”

Let God do the crossing over. Give it up. Stop trying to grab hold of God and maintain control of your life. Receive him instead as if your heart is the manger where he hopes to lay. Let him enter in.

You may indeed be touched by what you can’t possibly grasp.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Little Lamb, Who Made Thee?

It seems that every year, a song of the season captures my imagination. This year, the Grace Choir sings "The Lamb" which interprets and conveys a beautiful poem by William Blake. The words express a profound spirituality of the incarnation.

The poem notes the pre-existence of Christ in all creation, so beautifully expressed in the first chapter of the book of John, "without him not one thing was made that was made." Yet this master of the universe, the anointed one of God, comes as a lamb, a child. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." In my opinion, this is the most profound mystery of Christianity.

I share these words with you in hopes that they bless your holy season of Christmas. Here they are:

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Betty West - "Nothing Can Take the Joy of My Christmas Away"

A few weeks before my mother's last Christmas in 2002, she attended a worship service I was leading at Morningstar. When I opened the floor for prayer concerns, she announced "Even though I have been diagnosed with an agressive form of cancer and the prognosis is not good, I want everybody to know that nothing can take the joy of my Christmas away!"

Her carefully chosen words are etched in my memory. I had to sing a solo after that, and I barely managed to sing through my tears. She had left me with a powerful gift.

Every year during Advent, reading Mary's "Magnificat" reminds me that no matter what troubles come, there is always a bigger picture to behold. Mary had plenty to pout about, having gotten pregnant at 15 or 16 only to have others assume the worst. She knew the baby would be born out of wedlock, and would soon take a long trek on a donkey's back only to find that poverty and lack of connections would lead to giving birth in a messy old barn. Yet she knew there was a song to sing because God was doing something. Even heartaches put us in touch with the big picture of God's grace.

Do you remember how the movie "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" ends? Proud of stealing all the presents from the little town, he stands at the top of the mountain and leans his ear forward. He can't wait to hear the crying and wailing. Yet what does he hear? Singing.

Claiming Mary's and Mom's magnificent spiritualities would mean that no matter what, we sing anyway. We can’t help but sing. We sing and we sing and we sing. Nothing can steal the joy of Christmas away.

Why? Because no matter how hard life is, something new is being born in us.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Prayer of Placement

Oh God, as you formed me in your image,
I ask that you reform me in your image.

I ask not that I can use scripture to search your heart,
But that I can allow you to use scripture to search mine.
I ask not that I can use prayer to love you,
But that I can allow you to use prayer to love me.

Lord Jesus, I place my heart in your Heart.
I place my mind in your Mind.
I place my hands in your Hand.

I place my joys in your Joy and my sorrows in your Sorrow.
I place my pain in your Pain.

I place my hurts in your Hurt and my peace in your Peace.
I place my light in your Light and my dark night in your Dark night.
I place my death in your Death and my life in your Life.
I place my relationships in your Relationship and my brokenness in your Brokenness.
I place my mercy in your Mercy and my justice in your Justice.

I place my strength in your Strength and my weakness in your Weakness.
I place my doing in your Doing, my being in your Being,
My words in your Word, and my silence in your Silence.

I am so tired of taking out of your hands what you have created with them.

And so, Lord God,
In my wetness and dryness, in my deadness and aliveness, in my fullness and my emptiness,
All of who I am I place in All of Who You Are.


By Stephen P. West
March 2003

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Advent Mousecapade

Many of us look forward to having Christmas guests this time of year. My family started early. Last week, we had four very special visitors to start the season off right. A family of mice decided to drop in.

A friend gave us a Christmas tree, and as they say, you never know what might “come with the box.” Our guests provided lots of entertainment … you should have heard Sandy shrieking with delight.

As soon as our Advent mousecapade was over and our guests were attended to, Sandy let me know it was time to start cleaning. I have gotten started. Cleaning behind the refrigerator was rather interesting. There was an entire ecosystem back there.

I’ve never been a fan of pre-Christmas cleaning. I figure that’s what spring is for. Christmas is something you clean up after. But alas, our resident rodents have forced the issue, and Sandy can be rather persuasive.

During Advent, maybe pre-Christmas cleaning is just what we need. Malachi tells us that God is sending an emissary who comes intending to purify our hearts and cleanse our souls. I imagine he is speaking of John the Baptist, described as a messenger who will come like "refiner’s fire" and "fuller’s soap". John comes every Advent, as if holding a flame in one hand and detergent in the other, announcing the time has come to prepare the way of the Lord.

I have noticed in recent years that when I visit families in the hospital after a new birth, I’m often asked if I have washed my hands before I hold their child. Thank you, dear Christmas mice, for reminding me that Malachi sends me the same Advent message. I have to wash up before I hold the baby.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Advent Conspiracy

I love this idea and I love this movement. It's something you might want to think about this Advent Season. There's a wonderful video below and there is also information at The Advent Conspiracy. Check it out and may we all do a little bit to be more centered and make the world a better place.