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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent Day 12: Sometimes By Step

 “He heals the heartbroken and bandages their wounds. He counts the stars and assigns each a name.”
The end of the day came far later than I’d hoped. I’ve not been sleeping well since this advent journey began. The emotion of the visitors and the sights and sounds and stories, coupled with my own troubled emotions because of the coming Christmas Holiday, has robbed me of sleep…and at times, of peace.
I peel open the leather door on John Xiao’s unique advent calendar, and I am baffled. I guess it’s because I thought this visitor was finished already, but staring at the scene for a minute, and searching my soul, I realize this visitor needed a return. The visitor is me, and I still have a heart full of unfinished business.
Joseph and Mary are busy in the corner of the cave, rummaging through a bag of worn and threadbare clothes, trying to find something suitable for this infant son of God. The mere thought of that is at once laughable and tragic.
Laughable, that anything on this planet would be worthy of Jesus. Tragic that He would have allowed this situation, that he entered this poverty willingly. He chose this…
They seem occupied and absorbed so I make my way to the tiny wooden trough and kneel next to the newborn savior of my soul. He is awake and quietly looking at me with piercing eyes that have instantly cut through 49 years of bluff and bluster and shame and weariness and have found the core of my being. Then He smiled at me…           I reach down and take him in my arms, this little poor, illegitimate, scandalous baby-king, overlooked by the world on the night he was born, something we have in common and something that makes him so easy to approach. I am whirling and twisting inside. A thousand questions rage against the walls of my heart and threaten to burst from my lips all at once, like an auctioneer. I try to calm myself and sort through the storm inside. Slowly I begin to formulate the questions I want to ask him.
I am holding God in the flesh and I may never again get this chance. I have his attention in a way I don’t know I ever have before. Although I know full well he is enraptured by me -by us all- every second of every day. Here in this cave, in my arms, in the quiet of a brilliant midwinter’s night, He seems closer than He ever has.
The torrent of questions, and statements, begin to line up in order, waiting to be asked and expressed. Some are obvious and have already been answered sufficiently, but I find myself selfishly wanting to ask anyway. The “why” questions…why did my sister have to die so young? Why did Holly divorce me? Why does a man with the heart of a wonderful daddy, get to see his daughter so infrequently?
I consider asking all these questions but I realize that these aren’t the really weighty matters I am here for. I have wrestled these to the ground already and I have gotten sufficient answers. To ask again would be to abuse the special privilege afforded me here tonight and I refuse to do that.
No, I have deeper questions I want to ask…and deeper hurts I want him to touch. I have unfinished business with this child and I need to move beyond the shame and fear and ask him the thing I’ve wanted to ask all my life. So I move in closer and pick him up and hold him in my arms. Even as I do, the thought broadsides me…
“I am holding God. God…in the flesh and in my arms. Tiny, gentle, humble and unassuming. I have his attention in a way I have never felt I had before.”
The words are difficult in coming. I know what I want to say but I don’t like the way the words sound when I formulate them in my mind. It still hurts. It is still confusing. But I need an answer to the greatest question I have ever wanted to ask. So I muster the courage that I don’t really need and I haltingly begin speaking to this baby.
“Jesus…” I begin, “Mullins said something in a song once that has always summed up my life.” I am whispering and in my soul I hear the strains of Rich’s voice as he sings “Hold me Jesus”. “Sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all…” I pause here. I remember the very first time I ever heard that song and how deeply it cut my soul in its plaintive beauty. I continue…
“Actually, it feels like my life has never quite made sense. I’ve been watching you here tonight. Watching these visitors and hearing the angels and seeing the reaction of Mary and Joseph.” My vision grows hazy as tears well in my eyes. “All these people, the heavens, creation itself is happily announcing your arrival and celebrating your birth.” I speak with a smile. “It’s wonderful really…seeing this happen. Seeing prophecy fulfilled and a promise kept.” It takes me a minute to continue, and when I do, my voice is a deep croak, there is weariness in it and a hint of surrender.
“But what about me? Was anyone happy when I was born? My mom was 19 years old and unmarried. My dad was in Vietnam fighting just to survive. I wasn’t planned and I wasn’t wanted and I wasn’t hoped for. My birth came about in about as ignoble a means as can be” At this I instantly chuckle. I’m holding the son of God. God in the flesh! He’s illegitimate and poor and mired in a filthy cave and not nearly enough people have noticed tonight. And here I am asking about the scandal of my birth?
I am still beating around the bush. There are words that want to burst out of me like machine gunfire but I am afraid to ask. Maybe I’m afraid of the answer…or afraid there will be no answer given. I wrestle and I fret and finally I just decide to ask this infant child in my arms. What is he going to do, mock me? Not tonight he won’t. So, the words creep forward.
“Jesus…” I stumble, “Why am I here? What purpose do
I have on this earth? Was there anyone at all who was elated when I was born? Did I ever make anyone’s life better because of my being born? Was there even one person who was waiting longingly that night in September 1963, when I came into this world?” I was choking back tears and hesitating. “Or was it just a case of an unwanted, unplanned kid who was born the way millions of unwanted, unplanned kids are? Is this all there is for me? Was there nobody who wanted to bless me? To pray for me. Nobody who held me up and said ‘I have such big dreams and plans for your life?’” “Even my name was a botched mismatch” I whispered. “Who am I really?” “Whose child is this?” The words were flowing and so were the tears. I felt like I was going to break down into sobs. There was an inner wall inside my soul that began making creaking sounds and was about to crumble. I realized this and placed Jesus gently back into his manger. Then the dam burst.
I fell face down in the muddy straw at the foot of the crib and sobbed my questions again. “Who was waiting for me?” Who do I really deeply matter to?” Was my life special to anyone at all?” I lay there a long time weeping and wondering. Faces flashing in my mind. People I longed to talk to.
People I desperately wanted to know…to know, that I mattered to. That my life touched theirs somehow. My ex-wife, my daughter, my sister, my friends …my dad.
I don’t know how long I lay there. I know I wept until my sides hurt. I wept enough that I didn’t hear the entrance of the figure next to me. I didn’t know anyone was there at all until a voice broke my sorrow. “Son,” he said. It was a voice I didn’t recognize. “Son. Craig, get up. Look at me.” The man touched my shoulder and I got up on my knees. I attempted to wipe away the tears that kept flowing. Years and years of carting this around were gushing out of me tonight. This baby made it just safe enough for me to open this secret trap door and address this face to face.
The man wore a robe. It was a dark brown and he carried a staff. His thick beard ran down passed his throat and spilled onto his chest. It was mostly grey and untamed. He had a kindness in his eyes that drew my away from the hurt I was touching at that moment. He looked at me a long time and held my gaze in silence until it became awkward.
When I finally had cleared away the whirlwind in my soul, I asked him “Who are you?” The man smiled and drew a long breath. “You are my child” he spoke. I was baffled by this. “But, you are not my father. How am I your child?” The man chuckled and said softly, “You know much…but you don’t always understand.” He hesitated and looked very thoughtful. “Come with me,” he said.
We crawled to the opening of the cave and went outside. I hadn’t stood up in days and it felt great. The air was fresh and the stars were brilliant. I took a few deep breaths and rubbed my eyes. The man touched my shoulder and said “Follow me, son” Then he turned and started up a great hill near the cave.
We walked in silence for what felt like an hour or more. It was a very high hillside…actually more of a gentle mountain. The road was rocky and difficult to negotiate. The man walked with a determination and a strength that belied his seemingly advanced age. He never spoke during the entire journey. In fact he never looked back at me except once, when a large group of shooting stars rocketed past and he turned his head with a grin as if to say, “Did you see that?”
We turned a corner and crested the last rim of this mountain. The view was amazing. It reminded me of going to the Blue Ridge Mountains when I was in college in Lynchburg, Va. The sky was more clear and bright than any night sky I’d ever known. The old man sat down on a rock and waved his hand to bid do the same. I sat next to him and stared out into the starry night sky.
The man let the silence fall on us like a blanket before finally speaking. “Son, you have many questions inside. Questions you’ve longed to ask. Questions that you can’t seem to find answers for.” The man smiled as I shifted and shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t answer him. The hurt was still fresh from the tears I’d shed in the cave and I wasn’t really wanting to return to that moment just yet, if ever again.
The man stood to his feet and bid me do the same. I rose slowly. It has been an emotional few days here and I was weary. He walked over and stood next to me and we stared out across the valley below us and upward into the starry field over our heads. I had never in my life seen so many stars. Prior to this moment, I never could have imagined what “billions” looked like but tonight I was sure that’s what I was seeing. Billions of shimmering dots. So many, and yet against a sky so expansive, there was still room for more.
I stared for a long time at one particular star. It seemed to be slowly moving. Imperceptibly in fact. I rubbed my eyes because I thought they were playing tricks. The other stars seemed to begin to dim and this one star appeared brighter and brighter. The star was coming closer and growing larger by the second. It seemed like a planet now.
Like I could reach out and touch it.
The old man drew close to me and he began talking in a hushed tone, almost a whisper. “Son…” he spoke, “You carry shame that you do not own. You carry fear that you do not need. You seek yourself but you never recognize yourself in your reflections.” The man grew serious and let silence fall for a minute. “Son…” he said. “The questions you ask are questions everyone wants the answers to. The problem is that in your life, the people who normally answer them for you are missing.” I knew what he meant without asking. It was as if his words were being implanted in my heart as he spoke. I had never had anyone to define me. Nobody to tell me about my history or my future and nobody who had ever cared enough to have laid out a plan for me and for my life. Nobody who celebrated my arrival and who really deeply knew me, the way a family does…the way a dad does.
I got the sense that this man had heard every thought as it raced through my mind. He spoke again and he addressed everything I had just said in my heart. “You’re wrong, there was someone. There is a plan…” I was startled and turned to look at him.
He smiled knowingly and drew near my right ear. He leaned in close and whispered; “He numbers the star, and calls each one by its own name…” I back away and smiled. I love that verse. Its’ Psalm 147:4 I always wondered about all that it might mean.
The old man whispered again. “Did you ever wonder why it says He calls each one by its own name?” He said. “Yes, I have. I understand numbering them. I guess He just knows exactly how many stars He spoke into existence.
But I always wondered about knowing their names. Stars?
Names? Why did David write that?”
The old man looked thoughtful and a smile crept across his face, curling his mouth at the corners. He closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them he had tears just beginning to form. The he drew in once again and whispered a name in my ear. It’s a name I can’t reveal here in this journal. In fact I can’t tell anyone what it is. It’s not my given name “Craig.” It is the name John tells us about in Revelation 2:17. The name written on a white stone. The name that God -our father- knows us by. We each have one and it is a secret we will know one day when He calls us by that name for the first time.
The old man whispered the name into my ear and said, “This is how I know you my son…” He was speaking on behalf of God at that moment, I was sure of that much. God himself was calling me “son” and doing it in a fashion I would never forget. Then the old man put his hand over my eyes for a second. When he pulled his hand away, the star that had been coming closer was so close that it appeared only a few feet away, and it seemed as if I could touch it. The man spoke again, but not in a whisper this time. “Son, look at this star” I stared a long time at the star. The rest of the night sky had grown hazy and the only star I could clearly make out was this one. The man paused a moment and spoke again. “Son, one night a long time ago. A night very much like this one, Father God took me up on a mountaintop like the one we are now on and showed me
the stars. He told me to count every one of them, if I could. The he promised me one child for every star I could see.” I turned my head in shock. Then I fell to my knees instantly. The word hung on my lips a long time before I could speak it. “Abraham?” I asked incredulously. “Yes my son…” the man replied. “Please, stand on your feet.” I stood as he requested and stared in wide eyed wonder. The man sensed my shock and realizing I wasn’t going to have anything to say for a while, he continued.
“That night when God showed me those stars he made me a promise. He promised that I would finally have children. Until this time I had none. But God promised and he marked out the promise by telling me there was one star in the heavens for every child He would give me.” I was not grasping where he was going with this but then again, I wasn’t sure I was grasping anything. I was, after all, talking to Abraham.
He waited for my spinning mind to catch up and then he continued. “Son…Father God created this world about 3,000 years before he made me this promise. So if he knew he was going to make this oath with me, he had to have taken it into consideration while he was creating. That is why it says he numbers the stars. He knew from the beginning how many stars it would take because he knew how many children he would give me through His promise.
He knew this as he put those stars in place.”
Abraham waited a long time before continuing. He waited as if waiting to see the light go on in my soul that signified I grasped what he was saying. When he was comfortable that I understood his words, he continued.
“Son, each star of promise represents one child of promise. So each one is a marker, a placeholder so to speak. Each star represents one child who would accept this Savior and become a fulfillment of the promise God made me. Each star has a name son, because each one represents a promised child.”
He stopped here and watched my face as the dots began to connect in my mind. A smile began to mix with tears and then he continued... “This star,” he said, pointing to the brilliant star before us, “This is your star. This one is your place marker. It’s the star God himself set in the heavens to remind me of the promise he’d made. This star’s name is…” And he spoke my secret name again. My mouth hung open wide. I was in awe. I wept and laughed. Abraham let me absorb as much as I could and then he turned me toward him and placed his hands squarely on my shoulders.
“Son. I waited for you. Son God waited anxiously for you. The angels rejoiced and God danced over you without you even realizing it. He had a party, he jumped and laughed. He was happy! He had a plan for you since the moment he set your star with your name in the heavens.
He could not wait for your arrival. In fact, I’ve never seen him as happy as he is when one of his promised children is born.”
Suddenly it hit me and I dropped to my knees. Tears fell on the rough rocky ground and I saw the truth of what Abraham had said. No matter what I thought…the truth was that God had longed for me. He waited for my birth with great anticipation. He could not wait to see me and touch me. I began to understand that ultimately it was His plan and His blessing that I needed, and it was there for me to accept. I whispered a simple prayer and when I opened my eyes I was back in the cave and Jesus was smiling at me.
Abraham was gone and Mary and Joseph were fast asleep. It was just me and Jesus

…and those stars
“Sometimes I think of Abraham…how one star he saw had been lit for me” -Rich Mullins

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