Finally, finally the tears blew out of me into sobbing in the barn, the cats waiting impatiently for me to leave, Morgen quietly munching her hay. The light softening the wood beams. A hay bale holding my butt. I hoped Bruce wouldn’t find me.
Bruce and I had just been talking how Christmas was a hard time. It’s like a sink hole in our path, that we need to walk down and then up and back to normal time without the pressure to celebrate like we see TV, or like our friends who gather their families together—with their happy group pictures on Facebook. I was tired of writing Merry Christmas. Just outside of memory, childhood Christmases haunt me.
When my parents died Christmases became difficult. One Christmas we weren’t sure our dog would be alive when we woke up. (He was. Our emergency vet opened him up and saw she could save him.) There was the Christmas after my brother died, when I wanted to visit friends in Arkansas. I wound up puking on the way back to the plane, grabbed the barf bag on the way home. The year we visited my extended family we listened to the pastor say he’d seen angels during Christmas Eve, and Bruce wondered what the? No one in our family invited us for dinner that evening and we were grateful for a Chinese restaurant. Bruce isn’t one for giving or receiving presents so I order my gifts. That lovely anticipation, wondering what is under the pretty paper is not there.
As I sobbed I longed to spend the day with friends or neighbors, for the day to be more than just us. This year there was no one to invite and no invitations. Loneliness surfaced and burned. Several dear friends or people close to friends died this week, and finally my tears over losing them, brimmed. I wanted to go home to be with Jesus.
This was weeping and gnashing of teeth that Jesus talks about when we don’t have enough oil to get into the wedding party, when we haven’t reached out to people who could use what we have. God, “I’m sorry for feeling this. I know we are supposed to choose life. I know that eternal life begins now. Your Kingdom is here now. And I’ve been richly blessed with the farm, a loving husband as kind and gentle as God, and the ability to be content with quiet.”
But that kind of crying has been building in me. It’s the weeping and gnashing of teeth where God replaces a heart of stone with a heart of flesh. It’s like the stuffy humidity on a summer day blows out into cool, crisp air with bright blue skies after thunder, lightning, rain and wind.
Even as a young girl I longed to go home to be with Jesus, but back then we had the hope of the Second Coming–Jesus riding in on a white horse to make things right. I wanted to be caught up to meet him in the air. Even now, I want to be like Elijah or Enoch, or one of the remnant home without dying that Paul promises the Thessalonians. He says that the ones alive will be caught up in the air to meet him. Looking to “Christ will come again” is far more hopeful and healthy than looking toward what Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a person fully alive who has also died.”
But those beliefs aren’t in vogue these days. The Christian teachers I listen to say maybe we’re the ones who will bring Jesus back, maybe Jesus’ return will be us becoming like Christ in ways we don’t even dream, but that’s all on us, on our choices. But this has never worked and is a kind of Dominion theology where Christians take over culture that these same folks decry.
I feel sorry for God because he’s tried multiple ways for his people to be a blessing to the world. He tried through building a nation with laws that supported good living, but the people settled for gods they thought they could control. Then he came in person, but his closest friends thought he was there to overthrow Rome. Then even in the earliest days after He left, the church was riddled with conflict and only continued on to horrors like the Inquisition and Crusades. These days church leaders sexually abusing people has almost become a cliche. And yes the church has seeded good things as well like the end of slavery and hospitals to care for people. Abject poverty has decreased. Fewer people die violent deaths.
I wept through Christmas day church service. My prayer: “How long oh Lord? We were told ‘Peace on Earth’ but even your birth defied the powers that be, and babies died for it. It’s been two thousand years. You’re supposed to be the Prince of Peace, but the world is full of war. Rachel wept for her children. She weeps now. Her names are Israeli, Palestinian, Ukrainian, Nigerian, Kiryn, Uyghur, Venezuelan and names I don’t know. Yes you said there would be wars and rumors of wars and then the end would come but that has been true ever since you ascended to heaven. It seems the end of the world is coming, at least the world as we know it. The end of the world has already come for people in war zones like Israel and Gaza, like Ukraine and Russia, and little known people groups being attacked by governments or terrorists. How long oh Lord? How long?
The prophets themselves warned not to look for the Day of the Lord because it’s a day of deep darkness. “Blow a trumpet in Zion, sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness…” (Joel 2:1 – 2). Later in the book the prophet urges God’s people to fast and repent because it’s possible God will relent.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people…Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord weep and say, “Spare your people, Oh Lord and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2: 15, 17 ESV).
A few verses later, God says, “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Fear not you beasts of the field for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield” (Joel 2: 21, 22). So there is hope in the lovingkindness of our Lord what endures forever.
The day of the Lord came when Jesus was born. But even then it was a day of deep darkness when the Magi asked where the King of the Jews was born. Herod was so drunk on his power, so threatened by a baby, who would outlive him, he ordered babies two and under slaughtered in Bethlehem.
Michael and his angels made war with the dragon and threw him down to earth. The dragon crouched while Mary gave birth, but the earth opened and swallowed the river the dragon vomited out of his mouth and Mary fled into the wilderness, fled to Eygpt until Herod died. In her essay, The Dragon at Christmas, Lori Roeleveld reminded me how this dragon made war then, makes war now. And how we need to defy him, defy the ugly perceptions that can rise between people, defy the darkness, a rim I teeter on.
In Speakeasy Theology, Chris Green quotes Sergei Bulgakov’s diary about Christmas. He is ecstatic on Christmas day, saying “And it becomes clear how shot through the world is by Divinity: how nothing can add to this Divinity, nothing can impede it, nothing can obscure it.”
But the next day, he finds himself in dark places but he doesn’t wallow, he does battle. He says, “Invisibly the soul is wounded and made to stumble: a word overheard, an impression, lies on the heart like a heavy stone, crushing it with some kind of fright, exhausting the weak heart. This is the action of Satan, and seldom does a person ever suspect whose instrument he has become.
“Then God’s light seems dark and joy is extinguished. Then there creeps into the heart unclean fear and the night of despondency. That which you have always known suddenly appears as if dead to you. This is a temptation that one must bravely endure and not surrender to. You must say to your heart: you are a liar if you forget the God who saves [Ps. 68:20]. Through prayer, you must warm up the frozen parts of your soul until this dark cloud dissipates.”
The next day, I walked down the road, the day clouded over with clouds that are rolled like a spatula sometimes rolls batter. The rain fell quietly and I thought of the opening line of Mark Helprin’s gorgeous, The Oceans and the Stars, “Snow falling upon water makes a sound so close to silence, that no heart exists that it cannot calm” (xi). I listen to my footsteps. A flock of pigeons flew ahead of me. The neighbor’s horses and donkeys must be locked inside because of heavy rain Christmas night. Omalola sniffed an open hole a neighbor says is from Ni Gas testing the soil. I look at the Christmas trees shining bright in a neighbor’s house. We walk a little further but turn back when a little black dog barks at us. My cousin Facetimed me for over an hour. A few friends sent instant messages in greeting. People on Facebook wished me Merry Christmas.
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