1The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. 4Their voice goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. 6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. ~Psalm 19:1-6
December is the beginning of the church calendar year, the time when we celebrate the advent of the birth of Christ. It has been said that this time of year was chosen to reconcile the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, giving it a better and truer meaning in the story of the gospel. At the same time, people living in the Northern Hemisphere mourn the loss of daylight as the sun courses in its southerly descent. The darkness of the long night coincides with the darkness of our own hearts and the world in which we wait. Even those who have had the light of the world come into their hearts long for this beautiful world – which has been marred by the blackness of human sin – to be restored when the Lord returns again to make all things new. Jesus, the Light of the World, became flesh and entered our earthy plane to live among us and to bring Truth and Light into the hearts of all. And he is coming again. Now, 2000 plus years and waiting, we long for his return. But we also long for the REALITY of his coming in our own lives, in the meantime. What do I mean by this? Jesus told his disciples, shortly before his betrayal and execution, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Jesus was talking about another type of incarnation: the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the heart and mind of the child of God. I have found this to be true, that although we are his children and have asked him to be the Lord of our lives, we are afraid of the personal and intrusive nature of this indwelling. Yet we long for it. I was challenged by a recent sermon to ask God to come with me on a “ride along” for a day. I found God instantly accessible but also amazingly intrusive. I became aware of things which shut out the light, choices I made on an almost moment by moment basis. I was also made aware that these choices impacted my ability to listen and respond to what I already knew to be true… acts of small but not inconsequential obedience. But these moments of quiet and listening are the very moments that God will inhabit, “incarnate”, if you will. The habit of listening, like the habit of prayer, creates space that God will inhabit, if you ask him to, if you act with intentionality. I have been working on a painting series that has required my utmost in discipline and concentration. I have had to isolate myself from all distractions, to select the music I allowed in my studio, preserve my mind from temptations that maybe, of themselves, are not bad but that would not be of benefit to my spirit. Only then, because I had been diligently working up to this point, rather than just sitting and waiting for an inspiration to drop into my mind, was I ready and able to have the inspiration come to me. The pieces that I painted in this series are better than I am able to do on my own. This is because they were the product of rare and precious moments when, being ready, the Lord was willing to allow the work to be incarnated in me. That is what God did on the “ride along.” I had been praying. I had been listening. And when I asked, he was more than ready to reply. “YES! What took you so long to ask?” Now, this is not the type of thing that I can say happens every day. I wish it did. Or do I? It takes a lot of effort to place oneself in a prayerful attitude. It is a discipline that takes intentionality and effort. In these dark days of winter, as we wait for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, I hope and pray that we will make room to listen, to pray, and ask that the Lord would come again, new and fresh, into our hearts. Come, Lord Jesus.