Suddenly He Comes

Suddenly He Comes

In the United States February 2 is Groundhog Day. For many Christians, February 2 is Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Presentation is found in Luke 2:22-38 which records the events forty days after the birth of Jesus. At that time, Mary and Joseph go to the Temple so that Mary may be declared ceremonially clean and so that they might pay the redemption tax of the first born which is laid out in Exodus 13.

Simeon was righteous and devout man who was waiting for the “consolation of Israel. It was revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Simeon came in the Spirit to the temple, received Jesus in his arms, and blessed God. Luke records his response in a song which is entitled the Nunc Dimittis (now dismiss). Later Anna the prophetess greeted the couple and Jesus. Overwhelmed with joy, she praised God and told everyone who was also awaiting the redemption of Israel.

Andrey Mironov’s “Saint Simeon with the Christ child” is a contemporary imagining of this event. It is a striking painting. It’s all about the eyes. Examine the look between Simeon and the baby Jesus. There seems to be a connection. Though you can’t see Simeon’s eyes, what does his look communicate? What is he thinking? What emotion is he projecting? Next, look at the baby Jesus. What are in his eyes? How is he responding to Simeon? You’ve noticed the woman’s eyes in the background by now. (How can one not be struck by that look?); this is Mary. Mary’s eyes beg a reaction. Are they asking a question? Do they invites a response? What is she asking of us? I think the question Mary is asking is for Mironov the most important question.

This sonnet was previously posted and tweaked a bit.If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Borne in arms to his house as a pilgrim
The Anointed who’ll bear our salvation;
The Redeemer redeemed with two young pigeons
For the desire and wealth of the nations.
Suddenly, he comes to those who long-waited —
The refiner’s fire, promised fuller’s soap;
Simeon and Anna, made young again
Seeing Israel’s consolation and hope.

Lord, in the light of Candlemas I see
In the heart of my own mid-winter way
You gave your wealth, to become poor for me
That I might be young and long for the Day
When the sudden shaking of your revealing
Dashes the proud, but the poor and pierced, healing.

© Randy Edwards 2018.
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog ( Thanks.

Artwork: Saint Simeon with the Christ child. 2014. Oil on canvas. 90×70. Artist A.N. Mironov. By Andrey Mironov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

With a Child’s Eyes I See

With a Child’s Eyes I See

Next in the series So That You May Believe is a sonnet based on John 3:1-20. In this passage the elder of Israel, Nicodemus, comes to Jesus inquiring of his identity. Nicodemus apprehends that Jesus is somebody, but he doesn’t see who he is clearly.

Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ questions and confusion with a riddle of sorts which we read in John 3:11-14,

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus identifies himself and his purpose with two Old Testament passages: Daniel 7 and Numbers 21. In effect he is saying, I am the Son of Man, the cloud rider, who has stood before the Ancient of Days (Dan 7), and I am the reality of which Moses’ bronze serpent was only a shadow (Num 21). It’s as if he is saying, You will see Nicodemus, when you see the Son of Man lifted up as the bronze serpent was lifted up and that will identify the full measure of the love of God for the world and my love for you.

The mystery, and that which needs seeing, is that the Son of Man took the place of the serpent for us. The Seed who was to crush the serpents head (Genesis 3:15) was himself crushed as the serpent. Paul would later write in 1 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The question is what did Nicodemus come to see. He appears along with Joseph of Arimathea (another disciple in secret) in John 19. Joseph and Nicodemus take Jesus’ body, anoint and wrap it, and place it in the tomb.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

I came to him at night hoping to hear
A word which would confirm, dispel my doubt,
Justify the risk, and assuage my fear
That the price would get me in, not leave me out.
He said one must be born again to see
God’s Kingdom in its beauty, love, and light,
But I can’t understand how that can be;
Can one be made a child? Can that be right?

Three years later with a child’s eyes I see
A bronze serpent’s likeness, crushed Nehushtan*
I gaze upon healing his life for me,
The exaltation of the Son of Man.

Oh, what new mercies may the morning bring,
Turn lament to joy, give a song to sing?

*Nehushtan was the name given to the bronze serpent which likeness was kept in Jerusalem. 2Kings 18 says that Hezekiah had it broken into pieces because it became an object of worship.

© Randy Edwards 2018.
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog ( Thanks.
Artwork: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Woman, Behold

Woman, Behold

This Sunday’s passage is the basis for this sonnet which I wrote last year, have tweaked, and am reposting as next in the series, That You May Believe. It is based upon John 2:1-11 where Jesus and his disciples attend the wedding in Cana of Galilee. The passage begins,

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.'” (John 2:1-5)

This passage is mirrored later in John’s gospel when Mary, the mother of Jesus, makes her only other significant appearance. The irony of the interaction may easily be overlooked. Though John is explaining how Mary came to be in his care, it is reductionistic to see the exchange as only Jesus looking out for his mother’s well-keeping. As is the case in John’s gospel, John wants us to look closer, and he does so through a literary device called a prolepsis. The passage from John 19:25-26 reads,

“but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!'”

If helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Finding us outside as we waited on
Our master who brought us to the wedding,
His mother, not asking, telling her son
The shameful news the bridegroom was dreading.
“The wine has runout,” in question she eyed
Looking for what he might say and do.
“Woman, what’s that to me, my time’s not arrived.”
To the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

It’s been three years since he turned water to wine;
We stand at the feet of his vintner’s frame
Twisted round a stake like trellised vine
Is her son who saved a wedding from shame.
“Why?” pours from her eyes with sobs overcome;
The wine saved last, “Woman, behold your son.”

© 2017 Randall Edwards
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog ( Thanks.

Artwork: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), St. John Comforting the Virgin at the Foot of the Cross (After the Ninth Hour), 1862; pencil and watercolour with bodycolour and gum arabic on paper laid on linen

You Will See

You Will See

This sonnet is a part of the series, That You May Believe. It is based on John 1:35-51 and imagines the first disciple’s skepticism about the identity of Jesus. It especially imagines a response such as Nathaniel’s to Philip whose words I borrow, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

If helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

‘Come, meet the One whom John identifies
As the Messiah whose coming begins
New birth through fire by the Spirit baptize,
The Lamb of God who takes away sin.’

‘Can anything good come from Nazareth…
The calloused hands of a carpenter’s son?
Can a bearer of wood breathe life and breath
Into the ruined hope of our setting sun?’
What sign could he give plumb, true beyond doubt
That our life hangs on his header and frame,
Will he show his work let fingers trace out
The sum of his figures, see his plans and way?’

The Son of Man speaks, ‘You shall see in one day.
Heaven’s door opened, Israel’s sin borne away.’

© 2018 Randy Edwards
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog ( Thanks.

artwork: James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dust to Glory: A Christmas Story

Dust to Glory: A Christmas Story

Advent 2017 was a very special, early Christmas gift for me. In early summer, I met with two young artist who attend the church which I pastor. Adah Freeman and Asher McClain willingly endeavored to engage the vision I had for this year’s Advent season. It was my desire to help our congregation expectantly move forward through Advent by a weekly art installation which would focus us on the Advent themes of hope, love, joy, peace, and glory. It turned out better than I had imagined.


Asher McClain provided pyrography (wood burnings) which signified each week’s theme. He interpreted the themes masterfully and through them we saw things which he was not immediately aware but which bore the marks of God’s blessing.

Adah Freeman worked tireless hours on the portraiture which were to capture the moment in which each person heard the words, “Where are you?” Whether Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Mary, or the Shepherds, she captured their turn, their raised glances, their surprise, and their wonder.

Lastly, Michael Kuehn, Grace’s worship leader, was inspired by these artists and the opportunity He wrote (was given) lyrics and music which served to beautifully capture the moments which we were seeking to illustrate.


The following is the text of the Christmas message which I delivered to the congregation on Christmas Eve. Though a little late, Merry Christmas!

The first man and woman lived in the lush green and safe garden of God. They had always been able to see God. When they sought him, they found him. When looked at Him, they always saw the countenance of his holy and loving face. God made everything that was, and he walked at leisure in the midst of the garden enjoying his creation.

At some time, one of God’s creatures came to the first man and the first woman and taught them to use their imagination: to imagine looking down, to climb up out of the dust, to stand tall, to be like God who from his place looked down on all he had made. They imagined and then they did the only thing forbidden them. Looking up they stretched out their hands, stood on their tippy toes, and did the irrevocable thing. They did that for which there is no excuse.

Though the first man and woman were deceived by the creature, their deception had already begun to arise in them. Their desire to be like God was not to emulate or honor him, but to be equal with and independent of him. In that moment after they disobeyed, their eyes were opened, and they would forever look down, not in greatness, but in humiliation and shame. Never again were they able to look up and bear the brightness and countenance of the face of God.

That day God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening and called to the man and woman, ‘Where are you?’ Ashamed and afraid of what they had done, the man and woman hid. They covered their eyes from the face of God. The used the good things which God made and given to them to hide themselves — from God and from each other. If they could, they would’ve stayed in the garden enjoying its comfort and goodness while trying to hide all the while from God. But God loved them too much to let them do that.

Though death was the punishment, they did not die that day, but the curse of death entered the world. And in that, the man and woman saw all the ugliness of their treachery and the ugliness of what they had let enter the world. Since that day, every father and mother has had to tell their children: “You are made of dust, and to dust you shall return.”

God however did not leave them in the dust with only the hope of raising something from the dirt. He gave a promise, that one of the woman’s children, would bear the wound of every wound, and in his wounding he would crush into the dust all the brokenness they had let enter the world and all the brokenness that was inside them but most importantly, the brokenness that drove them to hide from the face of God. In his gracious kindness, he made them clothes to protect them from the wild and unsafe world. And who has ever been wrapped in such protection by such a tailor?

Many children of the first man and woman later, there was another husband and wife. Who, being old as dirt and whose life was as dry as dust found themselves at the end of the line of those who knew God, and their heads looked down. God promised to bless the man and his wife and to give them many descendants so they followed God where he led. In some matters they took things into their own hands and tried to raise for themselves the fruit of God’s promise. Though failing some, they continued to trust God even as they waited long in the fulfillment.

2017-12-15 13.30.29

It came to pass that the trust with which they trusted was tested. They had come to call God, God Almighty. God Almighty gave them a son when all hope of having a son was gone. But with such a desired and precious gift, a question needed to be asked. Though they trusted God Almighty could do anything, would they trust him with everything? Having gotten from Him what he had promised them, would they only trust themselves to keep safe the promise? The only way to tell was to ask for the boy back. If God Almighty could be trusted, the man would have to trust him with everything. He would give the boy back to God Almighty, even the son whom God Almighty had promised and given the man and his wife.

For three days father looked down the road. Father and son traveled the dusty road and with the journey the man carried the worry of what was to be done to the place God Almighty would show the father. The father and his son, climbed the mountain, and on that high place, the man looked down upon his son, his only son, and taking the knife, he moved to sacrifice his son as God Almighty had commanded. But in that quick moment, a voice called his name, “Abraham! Abraham!” Thankfully, Abraham did not reply as one may so often do when God Almighty speaks to us. We say, “Just a second! Can’t you see I’m busy?” Instead he looked up and cried, “Here I am!” And so the test was not if he could but whether he would. For who would love another so much that for the sake of that love would sacrifice their one and only son?

Many years later, and many grandchildren later the descendants of the man and wife went down to another land where they blessed many people and saved many lives.

2017-12-15 13.27.38
Eventually the people of that land looked down upon the descendants of the promise. The people of the land enslaved the descendants, and forced them live in dirt and water and straw where they made bricks for a great king, Pharaoh, who with those bricks and on their backs built great cities and buildings that reached to the skies. These were buildings upon which people would look up and marvel and the king’s wealth and power, and they would think of him as a god. The descendants of the promise though, did not call upon him as god. For even as they heads were laid low, they raised their voices to God Almighty, “Deliver us!’

God Almighty heard their cries for relief and deliverance and he sent a child. This child was hidden and laid down in an ark and set to drift upon the waters of the Nile river where he was found by one of the king’s daughters. The daughter of the great king drew the baby boy out of the water and drew him into society and prestige, but God Almighty was drawing him into another story. He was drawn out of hiding, drawn into violence, and drawn away to exile to wander midst the dust of the desert as a shepherd. Burdened with the calling but broken by failure, the man’s countenance was drawn low, and he looked down.

One day when he looked up and saw a fire in the midst of a bush, but the bush did not burn. When the Lord saw that he had turned aside God Almighty called the man’s name. God Almighty gave the man his own name, I AM — or “The LORD”. The man was very afraid, and he doubted whether he could be used and whether even THE LORD could use him. The Lord, promised the man that he would use him as he desired, and that he would lift his eyes. The Lord said to the man, you will know that everything I’ve told you is true, when after doing what I send you to do, you will come back to this very place where I will lift up your head, and you will look up, see me, and you will worship me. The Lord did this and so many things for the man and the descendants of the promise. They came to know so many things about the Lord, they knew his name. And for the man he drew out? That man spoke with the Lord as one talks to a friend. Eventhough the man talked with the Lord as a friend speaks with a friend, he never saw the Lord’s face. For who could see the face of the Lord and not be crushed by the weight of that glory? Or bear the joyful radiance of his holiness? And though many were delivered from the rule of the great and wicked king, a generation died and returned to the dust of the earth before their children saw the land of their promise.

And many years and generations later, a messenger from above, one of the servants of the Lord named Gabriel, came to a young woman in small town far away from the center of her people’s world.

File Dec 15, 2 14 24 PM

The young woman no doubt had her head down doing her chores, which probably involved moving dirt, preparing what the dirt had grown, and avoiding the dirt. Needless to say, she was doing the everyday things an everyday person does. Gabriel surprised her when he spoke high words, tall words of honor, “Greetings favored one, the Lord is with thee!”

The young woman was confused and surprised and amazed. She could not understand why this messenger would come to her, she who only fourteen, she had no influence, she was as humble as the earth.

Gabriel said,”Don’t be afraid, Mary, God’s grace is yours. See, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. For as written, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But she couldn’t see it. Looking down, she asked, “How, can this be since I am a virgin?” And the messenger told her, that the Holy Spirit of God will in power overshadow you, and the new creation shall begin. For the child born to you will be called holy and Son of God. Even now, your cousin Elizabeth in her old age, Elizabeth who has born no children, carries a son. For nothing will be impossible with God. And the young woman, bowed her head — not in shame but in willing honor, in gentle humility, and she said, “Let it be unto me as you have said.” For what does the Lord give except that for which no man can take credit.

Only months later, the young woman and her husband made a ten day journey to the home of their ancestors, for the Empire who ruled and the governor who kept the people underfoot determined there should be a tax. The town to which they traveled was called, House of Bread or Bethlehem. Because there was no room, they found shelter on the dirt floor of a stable with the animals.

File Dec 15, 2 12 37 PM

There were in the region outside of Bethlehem shepherds watching their flocks at night. It was their lot to try and make for themselves and their families a living from the earth. They were well acquainted with earth and its dirt. Some despised them and said that was exactly what they were: dirt. These shepherd-wanderers knew the earth’s dirt and dust from rocks and boulders to clods, loamy soil, and parched earth. They knew high meadows and watered valleys. They knew desert canyons and barren hill country.

The shepherd’s hands were calloused and dirty with work. Some were born into the life. Others were driven into the work by circumstance, necessity, or servitude. Some chose it by process of elimination, for they could not abide village life let alone city life. They needed the space and could stand the roaming and threats of the wilderness more than the closed in life of the city and the social and relational wounds.

This night was a night like many other nights: long and boring. Some nights were long and boring only to be interrupted with desperate minutes of fear and danger. Tonight seemed to be more of the previous. The stars in the night sky seemed to hang. They twinkled and moved in their fixed courses across the sky.

There was tingling sensation and then standing before them was a messenger. The brightness of his appearing in that night drove them back. As the glory of the Lord shone around them; they fell into the dust. The weight of the light and the goodness of the one who stood before them overwhelmed and then brought into focus all their hopes and fears. Their hope being to be able to bear this glory and walk in it — upright, joyful, clean of their soiled lives. Clean of what had been done to them and clean of what they had done and thought and wish they’d done. And with the awareness of that hope came the rushing of fear, that that for which they had longed, that for which was the root of all their longings would be lost to them forever. Fear of being really seen and known. Fear of being undone by this gaze of goodness.

On their knees, looking down, looking away, covering their eyes, shaking with fear and self-recrimination, they heard the kindest, most welcome word. This one of blazing light said, “Do not be afraid. Look here, I bring you good news, the greatest most joyful news which is not just for a few but for all people.” And at this their attention piqued.

Slowly they raised their heads, glancing at the others, trying to comprehend. “For all people?” was the word, but did it mean even for us people? Good news for us?

And the messenger continued, “Yes, to you! To you is born this very day, in the city of David a Savior, the Messiah, God’s special king, Christ the Lord?”

“But how can this be? How might we know?”

Here’s how you will know you are seeing this good news: if you seek him tonight, you will find a baby and this baby will be wrapped in swaddling cloths. And he will be lying in a manger.”

And then, like lightening, like a flash that didn’t fade, came the Light. It was as if the ceiling of stars had been torn open, there was singing and praising. The worship which was always taking place in the presence of God, God Almighty, the I AM, the Lord, that worship spilled like water, like waves crashing in flood, poured into the world — the world which God fashioned even as his own Word spilled into the world of his sustaining. The rising cry was, “Glory to God in the highest! Glory! and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” They stood bathed in the most lovely light, hearing the most beautiful sound, a song, the song, and it felt to them, that they had entered into the loving, worshipful heart and center of the universe. There they stood, still, looking up, no sound but the sound of the choir, and no words, but the words of their song.

Just as the tide rises and floods in rolling, increasing waves, the tide which had flooded the world receded into stillness and quiet. The night returned, the messengers departed, and the shepherds perception of the music became gradually lessened, but their skin still tingled, their faces still flushed, and their hearts remained full, and their minds were bright and clear. Almost with one voice, they said, “Let us go to Bethlehem to see!” Without delay, they went in search of the sign.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, they searched. The town was busy with travelers and the work of evening. The shepherds heard of a gathering at a stable where a mother had travailed through the day and night to deliver her child. The shepherds searched and found the mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph. Again a wave of marveling washed over them, for what did they see? They saw the very sign of which they were told. A baby lying in a manger. How strange, this child wrapped in this swaddling robe and held up off the dirt floor of the earth by this wood frame and laid in that from which creatures feed, bowing their heads to receive the good food and grain which sustains through the long, cold winter of waiting until the high summer of mountain meadows and green pastures.

Those gathered with the couple and the child marveled at all that the shepherds told them. Speechless they looked up and listened and wondered with questions again and again.

But the mother, Mary, noted it. She saw it in all that had happened to her and was promised to her that this was the way of it. She saw it in herself, the glory seeping in through her own fears of the future and the wounding glances and side-words which she overheard or even louder in the silence when she entered a room. She saw it in Joseph who was hurt and fearful of the betrayal and the fear of a damaged reputation for marrying the maiden. She heard it in Elizabeth’s voice who, being beyond hope of ever having a child, had delivered a son, and now she sees it in these shepherds. The glory seeps in through the brokenness. Just as the glory rushed into this world on these broken shepherds — dirty and dusty with work, but clean and clear with understanding. They told anyone who would listen, and recounted to one another over and over again of all that they had seen and heard, and whom they had seen.

For all who heard and received the glory which poured into the world through promise and long-purpose and now poured into the dust of the world? There was hope, love, joy, and peace. For them, and for us, the glory and praising and wonder, does not let go. It may swell and recede, but the glory remains.

Michael Kuehn has collected his songs into an EP entitled, “Here I Am!” which you purchase on Bandcamp HERE.

Where Are You Album

Portraiture © 2017 Adah Freeman
Pyrography © 2017 Asher McClain
Music © 2017 Michael Kuehn Music
Story © 2017 Randall Edwards


A Voice Loudly Cries

A Voice Loudly Cries

This sonnet is based on Matthew 2:16-18 which recounts Herod’s murder of the young male children in the region of Bethlehem after he realized he had been outsmarted by the wisemen who had come to pay homage to the King of the Jews. This event is called the Slaughter of the Innocents. From time before remembering, it has been children who have born the cost of society’s sins.

Matthew 2 reads,

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18    “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

You may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

This is the world where every king chances
To control and do what they can to win,
Where choice vindicates all circumstances,
Where the cost of that choice pays with children.

Oppressors force marriage to dominate,
Defile with sex, make the victim a villain,
Use rape to terrorize, humiliate,
And the price that is paid? Paid by children.

A voice heard in Ramah, she loudly cries:
Rachel lamenting for her lost children
As a king’s arm kills till ev’ry child dies,
Ev’ry parent’s arm emptied, ev’ry grave filled in.

Rachel, unconsoled shall weep for her lost
Until they return, and the king’s arms crossed.

© Randall Edwards 2018
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog ( Thanks.

artwork: Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Christmas Letter

A Christmas Letter

Here’s a Christmas letter from a friend. Merry Christmas!

Dear Randy,

I hope this letter finds you doing well. Anna sends here greetings, as do Amy, Angie, and Amanda to your children.

Lately, I have found myself in the malaise of the holiday season. I began with such high expectations, but I’ve followed by too little time to make good on the plans, and so I’m caught in the trap of resenting having so little but expecting so much – again. It’s the same trap every year.

As I sit down to write you, Friend, a line from the carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” which I heard on the radio earlier this evening while running errands has lodged itself in my head. You know the line: “…the hopes and fears of all the years….” I think I begin each new holiday season with hope, but rarely apprehend the fears. By the time I apprehend the fears, the dread of impending disappointment drives me deeper into the sadness of yet more missed opportunities.

“Hopes and fears,” when I was kid, captured Christmas. I was hopeful and fearful – at the same time, though I thought what the carol was referring to was Christmas presents. “Would my parents get it right?” I always tried to be clear and specific. One Christmas I hoped for a laced, leather, Wilson JV5 football — the one with the half striped ends? I feared getting the “pleather” knock-off. A football was a football wasn’t it? Not in this case. I didn’t care about budgets, availability, globalization or the commercialization of Christmas. I hoped that I would get that football, and I feared that I wouldn’t.

“Hopes and fears” seem so different now. I look at Amy, my eldest, and I am full of hope and fear. How can I tell her that the place which she somehow imagines that I am – probably some variant of ‘arrived’ is a place for which I am still looking. I look at my teenager, and I know what she doesn’t yet. That she’ll always be Amy. That her hopes and fears – though they may grow and be refined, will always be her hopes and fears — that her goal to ‘become’ what she thinks is ‘adult’ is merely ‘aged adolescence.’ She thinks I’m arrived, but I’m just an old teenager. How do you look your eldest in the eye who is so full of hope for what her life will hold for her by means of satisfaction? How do you encourage her optimism and pursuit of happiness and all the while you know that there are things of which someone should be very afraid. It may be the frailty of life or it may be something insignificant. I’m sure that whatever causes her to seek counseling, will in some way be connected to my hopes and fears. Hoped choked out by industrialism in the workplace or the comodification of product or the commercialization of society – whatever it is, my hope for my daughter is subsumed by my fear of disappointing and disappointment, and so, I give the wrong football, the wrong stereo, the wrong clothes. Because I can’t hear through my hopes and fears, I miss the hope and fear in my daughter’s voice. That’s the way it happens. Gradually, I move towards the t.v. or the computer or work or the yard or the bills. Gradually, she moves towards her room, towards the phone, towards the computer. Contact comes only when we pass one another on our ways to those things which we do to keep the hope alive and fear at bay.

“Hopes and fears” captures what I thought it would be to be married. Christ’s first advent meant presents, but Christ’s second advent meant the end. The thought of Jesus coming on the clouds, though something which we as college Christians were to look forward, left us with a certain air of ambivalence. In particular, what if Jesus comes before I’m married. Hope and fear for me as a college student could be summed in one way: a guilt free sex. Not merely was it guilt free, but it I just new it would somehow be wholesome and unbridled. Little did I realize that ‘hope and fear’ would almost characterize every interaction of our marriage. Anna’s hopes and fears and my hopes and fears seem to collide weekly: I’m not around enough; she’s too tired; I’m drained by work; she’s drained by child rearing. I hope that we fear less these days, but maybe we’re just too tired to be afraid. And our hopes? We’ll I’d to settle for absence of daily disappointment.

Hear I am, mid-life, climbing the career ladder which I’ve dutifully climbed. I got the MBA, I put in the extra hours, I relocated my family for the promotion, and have I arrived? All I can think sometimes, is “Is this it?” Have I peaked?” I love what I do, yet I can’t help but think that anyone could do it. “Hope and fear.” I had hope of making a difference of leaving my mark, but I’m afraid that I, myself, have become a commodity – just one product out of many products. I have hope of creating a work environment that is safe and wholesome for those work for me, and yet I’m afraid that my leadership failings leave me vulnerable to those who would climb over me for my position or are more likely just biding their time to make the jump to something bigger and better. I hope to be good at work, but I’m afraid that I’m merely being put up with – sort of a relational welfare recipient. I imagine my superiors saying, “He’s not our first choice, but what else is he going to do?” I want to be so good at it that if feels like it will kill me to fail. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to work somewhere else doing something I didn’t care so much about.

We’re headed out of town to my parent’s for Christmas. Before we get out of town, it seems like I’ve got a dozen or so things to do. My life seems to be consumed with a dozen or so things to do. Mandy, our youngest, broke the kitchen faucet this afternoon. How does a three year old break a kitchen faucet?

I’ve no real problem with plastic, but these faucet cartridges? It goes against reason. Turning a valve off – i.e. a faucet in a sink — is about tightening. Tightening is about torque. Torque is about pounds of pressure. These new kitchen faucets don’t use valves, they use switches. No torque is needed; you just turn it off. Nevertheless, my kids push and twist the faucet valve (which is really a switch) and break the cartridge. And so with water running in the kitchen sink, I’m out on Hanes Mall Blvd in Christmas traffic trying to find the replacement cartridge while my wife and daughters are at home decorating the Christmas tree so we can have a tree before we go out of town, come back exhausted, and pack it all away. Is this the Christmas we had hoped for? Me, coming home hopeful of finding peace but falling into chaos, flying off the handle at Mandy. Anna, sensing an onslaught of a tempered rage rant attempts to mediate the awful chasm between brute beast and offspring. This was not the Norman Rockwell Christmas picture: Defiantly protective wife, fearful children scattering for cover in other rooms and the Daddy: a compilation of Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch, Darth Vader, and Sauron. Getting out of town will be nice. I hope we can survive it.

I think of that Christmas years ago, and I wonder if getting out of town was the same for Joseph and Mary. Newlyweds, taxes, oppressive government, family business, sketchy pregnancy, out of town trips – did they have any hopes and fears? Anna and I’ll load up our van for our seventy-five mile trip to our in-laws, they most likely walked that distance. In order to encourage my wife’s labor she had to walk a hospital’s corridors. What do you think walking 75 miles would’ve done? Mary on a donkey? That’s Sunday School and picture books, the Bible doesn’t say anything about riding. Mary walked to Bethlehem. She walked uphill. But even if they had a donkey, you know how it always is. The man at the stable looks the donkey over and says, “She’s got a lot of miles on her; I don’t know if she’ll make it.”

Did you ever notice that they went to Joseph’s hometown, and he had to stay at an inn? I wonder what that was all about? Maybe it was just a little too scandalous having that Galilean cousin who got married “quickly and quietly” with his new pregnant wife at the house. You know, the neighbors will talk. Maybe it was just a little too stressful to stay with the family. Regardless, there was no room in the inn, and they ended up staying in the garage with the transportation and food – transportation and food that, well, you know, pooped. Hopes and fears? I bet that was some honeymoon — some peaceful, family vacation. I’m having a meltdown because of a stupid faucet, and the pressure of living up to some serene suburban Thomas Kincade Christmas painting where I’ve spent too much money — again, tried to do too much Christmasing — again, got too caught up in the production – again, and forgotten Christmas.

While out this evening, I was listening to the radio. ‘SJS was playing Bing Crosby’s version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The serenity and peace of a “deep and dreamless sleep” is something I’d love to have. Was it really that serene in that stable on that night? Our little town is anything but. We’re not a peaceful little town whose tranquility is answered with the advent of the Prince of Peace. Rather, our little town is the picture of “tooth and claw.” I’m driving down the busiest street in Winston trying not to be killed by the hopeful yet fearfully panicked parents and friends trying to find just the right thing or at least something with which to settle. And all their “hopes and fears” are being frustrated by an angry Dad whose advent seeks a plastic cartridge to repair a stupid faucet whose engineering testifies to the mystifying wisdom of a design and marketing committee. I’m not a Prince of Peace; I’m a Prince of Pieces and that’s what I’m going to.

The “hopes and fears of all the years” – the words stick in my head. While running errands this evening, I wondered about “hopes and fears.” Joseph and Mary’s “hopes and fears” as they journeyed to their hometown only to be turned out to the stable. No, celebratory birth with family present, offering help, waiting expectantly for news. Instead, an exhausted, transient, young, hopeful yet fearful couple – one displaced couple out of hundreds probably – and one mother having her baby in a stable because there was no where else to go.

Driving back home as “the silent stars go by,” I thought of my wife and daughters. I look up at those stars, and I think about our “hopes and fears.” Our hope that the deepest longings of our hearts tells us that there is something for which we have been created that we have not yet experienced and the fear that I may never experience it are answered in the birth of this little baby born in a stable.

“Yet, in thy dark streets shinneth, the Everlasting Light…”

Sitting in my car, in my driveway, I was bathed in light. I realized that I actually want that for which I have been (and always am) so afraid: to be real. To just be Gary. I want to own my brokenness, my desperation, my anger, my fear, my drivenness, and my hope. What’s so bizare is that I can be most of these all at the same time. I don’t want hiding in the shadows of dark streets. I want shining. I want Everlasting Light. Talk about hope and fear. There’s something about seeing that takes courage. I hope I can take it. I have help though, because at Christmas, we have God’s answer to our hopes and fears. On that night 2000 years ago, God didn’t come to His ungrateful, chaotic family as angry Parent, but as a baby. By coming to us as a baby, I think, God is saying, “Come to me with your hope, but don’t be afraid.” I wonder if I can live that out with my family, my employees, and my friends? Will I live believing that in Jesus my hopes and fears are answered, secured, and waiting? Will I be so patient, that my wife and daughters can come to me – unafraid with their hopes and fears? I hope. I hope.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The Everlasting Light:
The hopes and fears of all the years:
Are met in thee tonight.

I am afraid this letter has gone on too long, but I hope that you too experience that Everlasting Light this Christmas. And so, a Merry Christmas to you, and the family.

Your Friend,

This piece owns a debt to Garrison Keillor who first drew my attention to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

All content copyright, unless noted otherwise, Randy Edwards, 2001-2006. All rights reserved.