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The Dichotomous Nature of Life by Michelle Cook

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week Two: The Magnificat

Monday, December 11

Psalm 27

I remain confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)

When you are eight and alone in the sanctuary of a church that might as well be St. Paul’s, you become exceedingly grateful for a sea of welcoming souls. When you are eight, smiles and words matter. 

When you are eighty, I suspect you more fully understand why they matter.  Although I am half that now, I have never read one of his history books, nor did I ever sit in one of his classrooms, yet I am a part of him and he of me.  All these years later I remain thankful to a gentle, bespectacled man who took a few precious moments during worship to lean in and say, “Well now, looks like we’ve got a singer here. You sit up here and sing and don’t be afraid to let yourself be heard. I’ll be right here listening!”  I remain both grateful and profoundly responsible for this gift given me by Hubert Inman Hester.  Being seen and heard in a world that seems so vast can allow one to feel the deep, sacred mystery of God.

As a child of both sound and silence, I often marvel at the dichotomous nature of life.  My own tapestry is thickly woven with the connective thread of the arts, in which I find a mouthpiece for my sincerest joy and most profound grief. I am the sort of person who will cry without shame on an airplane while listening to Rachmaninoff, or lift my hands to the sky while reading the poetry of Oliver, Rilke or Neruda.  Some days when I paint, I literally feel bathed in a buttery wash of colors; as though I am being lifted by unseen strings. There is so much beauty and pathos in the world waiting to be noticed.  Absorbed. Shared. What an astounding opportunity in which to meet God each and every day.

I can so clearly hear the music of the Psalmist David thrumming with interlocking melodies of crisis, grief, the faithfulness of God and the blissful elation that comes when one begins to see God in absolutely every facet of life. I do feel like I am saved daily by the ineffable beauty of our world.  Mary Oliver captures this so perfectly in her poem “Something.”

“Sometimes I dream that everything in the world is here, in my room, in a great closet, named and orderly, and I am here too, in front of it, hardly able to see for the flash and the brightness-and sometimes I am that madcap person clapping my hands and singing; and sometimes I am that quiet person down on my knees”

Hubert Inman understood, and for this I am grateful.  And I am still singing.

Michelle Cook

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Joy to the World by Lisa Solomon Shoemaker

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week Two: The Magnificat

Sunday, December 10

Luke 1:46˗55

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:52)

On a cold, cloud-covered day in February1980, Jim and I left Bothwell Regional Hospital in Sedalia with a brand-new baby girl snuggled into a car seat. We had driven away from our house four days earlier as a family of two, but we were exiting the hospital as a family of three. As Jim drove down 16th Street to usher his new family home, I remember looking out the car window and thinking that nobody in town was as happy as I was then. Nobody was as blessed. Nobody had a more beautiful baby.

Now, I need to tell you that in the minds of most Sedalians, there was nothing special about that black Dodge Omni traveling down 16th Street in February. Nor was there anything special about that baby, or Jim, or me. We were just a run-of-the-mill couple who happened to have been delivered of their first child and were now on their way home. But I didn’t see what they saw.

Look at what Mary sees here. 

She is not a queen, not the rich daughter of a mighty landowner, and not a seer of the future. She is part of the “lowly” that God will use to usher in the savior of humankind, yet she knows this. Because of what she knows, God has given her words to express her beautiful, heartfelt joy. In fact, her entire “soul rejoices.” Mary certainly had reason to rejoice; she was chosen, not because of her high status, but because of her obedience that made her special to God.

Like those Sedalians who did not know what precious cargo was in our back seat, those in Mary’s hometown did not know what she knew. That was okay; the reason for her joy was about to come to the world and change everything.

by Lisa Solomon Shoemaker

   

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The Question of Authority by Blane Baker

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week One: Ave Maria

Saturday, December 9

Mark 11:27-33                           

By what authority are you doing these things? (Mark 11:28a)                   

Just prior to our focal passage, Jesus has cleansed the temple and declared it a house of prayer. From this day forward, the local authorities seek to destroy him. One day at a gathering in the temple, the chief priests, scribes, and elders ask Jesus a question to challenge his authority. Sensing a trap, Jesus says he will respond once they answer a single question. Jesus proceeds to ask them whether the baptism of John is from heaven or from man. Immediately, they know they have been outwitted, and they refuse to answer saying, “We do not know.”

This question of authority reminded me of my first teaching experience. As a graduate student, I had taken a part-time position at a local community college. As the first day of the fall semester approached, I worked on my syllabus and rehearsed how I would explain the introductory material. My preparations went well, and I felt ready. On the appointed day, I arrived early for class and lingered in the back to acquaint myself with the room set-up. In the meantime, many of the students gathered and engaged in casual conversation. Before class began, one of students asked, “I wonder who is teaching this class.” With as much confidence as I could muster, I said, “I am.”  The students' chuckles let me know that my authority was in question. Over time, I proved myself to be an able “first year” teacher, and I earned more and more respect. On the last day of the semester, the students gave me a surprise party at the end of class. Their kindness helped me to appreciate the spirit of Christmas.

In our passage, Jesus does not experience the same kind of grace from the authorities; ultimately, he suffers betrayal and death. These events, like the birth of Christ, are shrouded in mystery. While mysterious to us, all are within the will of God.

During this time of Advent, many of us experience mystery and even an unwillingness to talk to God. We may be afraid; we may be sad; we may be distracted; we may be angry. Whatever our state, God desires a relationship with each one of us. In due time, all will be revealed. We will know more fully the mind of God, who sees reality in the context of time and space we cannot fathom. In seasons of mystery, we must trust in the God who never leaves us—even though we may not always feel His presence.

by Blane Baker

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