The Poetry of Christmas - Words that Stir My Soul

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As a writer, I appreciate poetry and music very much. I especially appreciate it at Christmas, my favorite holiday of all. There is a beauty and blessing to Christmas music that enters anew into my soul each year as soon as Thanksgiving is over and we put up the tree. It announces itself softly in the holy words and moving melodies, building slowly to an unrestrained expectation of the joy to come. Like an evening snowfall that calls us to fireside reflection around the Christmas tree, the music of Christmas sends me inside my heart to contemplate the great mystery of our redemption:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father. (John 1:14. RSV2)

Christmas is the time when heaven joins with earth, when the vertical and the horizontal natures of our faith come together in the little baby of Bethlehem. It unites my earthly past to my glorious future. The poetry of Christmas shows me that the incarnation is the greatest sign, the purest sacrament, its grace falling down upon us and spreading out into our world as hope renewed.

 

The Poetry of Christmas

Nothing stirs my soul quite like the poetry of Christmas, The words and music do for me what no theological text could ever do. These inspired poets raise me up out of time and seat me in that sacred space where my soul is truly satisfied with the message and meaning of the season. Such is the power of words, especially words that draw their strength from the sacred texts.

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In that place of quiet contemplation, sitting by the fire with my cup of tea and my laptop as I listen to the music of Christmas, my ordinary life gives way to unimaginable possibilities. I see myself through the eyes of the One who looked out upon the plains of Bethlehem and cried tears so deep that heaven itself bent down to gaze in astonishment. Like the shepherds and the wisemen, I am called to witness the holy child before me: sleeping in a manger, nursing at the breast of his young mother, warmed by the breath of the animals on that cold and quiet night when Jesus was born. In the Christ child I see heaven’s perfect love flowing freely upon the earth, like the poetry that fills my soul through the music I hear.

 

The Sign of the Cross

As I listen to the music of Christmas, the majesty of heaven descends from the throne room and walks upon the weary road of this world. The light of truth bursts forth like the dawn upon the darkness of sin and despair. Because of those powerful words I no longer look at the manger scene, the sacred Word or the bread and cup and see something ordinary and sentimental. Instead, I see God invading our world, giving Himself to us to consume, and sacrificing Himself on the cross where heaven finds satisfaction and earth is redeemed.

Past meets present meets future in the poetry of Christmas. The tiny shoot of Jesse becomes the righteous branch that spreads out to all the earth as the fullness of the Godhead comes to dwell among men and carries us forward to the Last Day. To Bethlehem, the House of Bread, comes the Bread of Life, the One who will give His life for the whole of humanity. The poetry opens up the reality of the vertical of heaven jons to the horizontal of the earth and centers on the one who fills the height and depth, the length and breadth, of creation with His perfect, sacrificial love. In Him, the promise of our Sabbath’s rest becomes a daily reality that fills my heart with unspeakable joy. He is God with us:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el. (Isaiah 7:10, RSV2)

 

A Covenant of Coalescence

As I sit by my fire during this blessed time, listening to songs that celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am transformed by the One who came in the fullness of time. All time becomes a holy moment - a blessed covenant of promise - within those poetic words and I can gaze upward to the heavenly realms, and yet look to the east and west to see a world still longing for the hope that Christmas brings.

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The poetry and the music reveal to me what Christmas is all about. The Wonderful Counselor reveals His truth to my heart and makes me wise. The Mighty God speaks His power into my actions and calls me to serve. My Forever Father shows me the heart that bled upon that cross and I surrender to my sin. The Prince of Peace fills me with contentment and sends me forth to bring harmony to my world. Through the poetry of God’s Word, I see what my senses fail to grasp.

For to us a child is born,

     to us a son is given;

 and the government will be upon his shoulder,

     and his name will be called

“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, RSV2)

 

Prophecy and Profound Fulfillment

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The Bible is a divine love letter, a song of hope sung into our hearts from beginning to end. We hear the prophets calling out through time to the One who will fulfill all their hopes and dreams of redemption. We hear it in the words of Mary as she rejoices in God’s who favors her with His love. We see Jesus, speaking His poetic words of peace and moving through this world with his profound purpose that ends with His death on the cross. And all throughout the Bible we experience the hope that is ours to the end.

I would like to end this brief sharing with some poetry of my own, written in love to the Savior who has spoken into my heart and helped me to see the power of the incarnation that has linked heaven and earth His coming to earth. These new “hymns” speak of the promises of old fulfilled in Christ, and the response of heaven and earth to His coming to our world as the little baby of Bethlehem. I hope they inspire you to pen your own words in response to this joyful season of incarnational love. May God bless you as you take time to listen to the poetry of Christmas and experience the joy of heaven and earth coming together in redemption through the Christ child this Christmas.

 

Unto Us

Unto Us a Son is given,

To our Race a Child is born,

In Him all our sins forgiven,

Love fulfilled on Christmas morn.

 

Bethlehem of Judah’s numbers

Not among the least you be,

In you now your ruler slumbers,

Israel’s Shepherd God is He.

 

In the wilderness preparing,

Way made straight and hill brought low,

Broken reed His life repairing,

Seed now planted, soon to grow…

Our Messiah, King and brother,

Sinless Savior, One so mild,

Holy God alone, no other,

Born to us as lowly child.

 

Days are coming, branch increasing,

King from David’s royal line.

Righteous Judgment, never ceasing,

Sacred ever-living sign.

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Holy Scepter rightly reigning,

Kingdom rule without an end.

Promised Land forever gaining,

Broken staff His law will mend.

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Chorus…

 

Lo the Virgin, hour nearing,

Calls His name Emmanuel,

King of kings in flesh appearing,

Saves us from the pow’r of hell.

 

Chorus…

 

Unto Us a Son is given,

To our Race a Child is born,

In Him all our sins forgiven,

Love fulfilled on Christmas morn.

 

Hymn for the Holy Child

 

IIn the fullness of the ages,

Word of God in flesh was born,

God from God, the light of Heaven,

Came to earth on Christmas morn.

 

Hope for man, our sinless Savior,

Infant child at mother's breast,

Sleeping still in straw-filled manger,

Holy Lord and Sabbath's rest.

 

 

Shepherds in the wasteland watching,

First to hear the angel's call,

Hasten now to lowly stable,

To their knees in reverence fall.

 

Host of Heaven now united,

Mighty chorus, hymn of praise,

Yahweh’s presence shining brightly,

Blessings ‘till the End of Days.

 

 

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Star shines brightly, Sacred Godhead,

Fills the sky with radiant light,

Perfect peace and Holy Power,

Bringing day to darkest night.

 

Wisemen seeking, search the heavens,

Follow star to House of Bread,

Bowing low to new King rising,

At his feet their gifts they spread.

 

 

Men rejoice for your salvation,

As our God breaks into time,

Fall before the child in worship,

Pure transcendent truth sublime.

 

Sing with joyful hearts surrendered,

Praise the babe on manger throne,

All creation in submission,

He is God and God alone!

The Courage of Conviction, The Humility of Humanity

There is a certain grace that is required of all writers: a strength of character and a comfort with the gift that is inside us. To some it may seem like arrogance to take our thoughts and put them into writing we feel is worthy enough to be read by others. Who are we, really, to think that our words have merit and deserve to be preserved for future generations to see? Yet we remain writers, convinced of our giftedness and determined to spill our wisdom onto paper and into the virtual world.

There are many reasons people write, and perhaps I simply romanticize the process of writing too much. I know many write to sensationalize and sell a product, to tantalize and titillate our selfish senses, or to foist misguided ideas or even hatred upon itching ears willing to hear. There is a lot of empty writing in the world: writing that does nothing to raise the human spirit, but only serves to speak to the worst of who we are. But there is writing that speaks to weary souls thirsty for renewal: writing that is meant to raise us on the wings of lofty ideals and blessed hope. For those of us who have the hope of heaven within us, the difference is quite clear. But to the broken and lost of the world our words seem to be illusions created to make us feel good inside or a weapon of intolerance against those who wish to live their lives anyway they choose. Often, when we are confronted by those who have chosen to trade tradition and morality for individual rights and political correctness, we’re tempted to back down, to soften our words or to believe that they don’t deserve to have the impact they once had. How then do we continue as writers in this vast wasteland of confusion, personal preference and wrong thinking and living?

The first thing that we need to have is the courage of our conviction. We often think of courage as unwavering fearlessness in the face of danger. But courage is really determining that what is right and needed outweigh our fear and our weakness. In other words, even though we are afraid of failing or falling, we push forth and do what is right anyway. As believers in the One who pressed on to take the bloody beatings and endure the cruelty of the cross, we must look within to see the spark that God has placed within us and fan it into flame, a blazing fire of words that forge a spirit sword to cut into the hearts of the lost and the weary and perform sacred surgery to shape the new woman or the new man. It’s just too important to ignore, and we must answer the call within us to speak the words that will encourage and heal, admonish and rebuke, and renew and restore.

The second thing we need to have is the humility of our humanity. One of the greatest dangers of being a writer is thinking that our writing is something that we accomplish on our own. Indeed, some writing is of our own making; that is the kind of writing that goes forth into the soil of other lives but bears no fruit. It sows a bitter seed yielding an unsatisfying harvest that does nothing to nourish or meet any need. But the writing that comes from a deeper source, from an eternal river that flows out from our transformed hearts, is life-giving: it channels the power and presence of God into fertile hearts and brings forth the fruit of peace and patience, joy and determination, gentleness and self-controlled living. It connects the God who has spoken to us with the souls of those who are ripe for the harvest and ready for the reaping. It can accomplish this, not because of anything we bring, but only because of what God has placed within us and graced us to do for Him.

When I find I’m too tired to write, when I’ve become discouraged and disgusted with the wrong I see around me, and when I’ve begun to doubt myself as a writer, I find myself coming back to these two eternal truths time and time again. I believe in the power of my writing and ground myself in the source of that power. I take hold of the gift and then release it with all the joy and fervor of a man sold out to the certainty that God can take one such as me and speak His wonderful words through my humanity and my spirit. It’s a truly liberating and satisfying experience – devoid of arrogance, but full of humility and the assurance that being a part of the ever-flowing river of God’s eternal voice can bring.

If He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5), there is great comfort and great elation in being connected to the source of our life and the power of our giftedness as writers. We share in the tremendous privilege and the awesome responsibility to use our words in His name – to heal and to inspire and bring that same life-giving grace to others who are ready to receive. As you sit down today with pen in hand or keyboard at the ready, remember that you have the courage of your conviction and the humility of your humanity to serve as the fuel to stoke the fire of your spirit and pour forth into speech the words that will bring love and life to others. God bless!

Dream Walks

Writers find inspiration from many different places. Some are inspired by their faith, some by a person they admire. Others are moved to write by an event that happens in their lives. Whatever the case, I find that the inspiration for writing and the many ways it comes to me is a wonder and a mystery that is very…well, inspiring!

I wanted to talk about one of my chief sources for writing. It’s what I like to call a “dream walk.” Some people go on “prayer walks” and they take time to lift friends up before heaven’s throne, focus on their relationship with God, ask for forgiveness and take in the beauty of their Creator’s world. My dream walks are like that but with a bit of a twist. While some may find the way I walk my walk a bit strange and unorthodox, I find it to be a fascinating trip into the weird and wonderful world that is me, and a really great source for material to put down in words!

I’ve always been interested in dreams and their application to my life. There has been a lot of study devoted to dreams and their meaning. Some think that dreaming is nothing more than a sort of “mental housecleaning” – the mind’s way of rearranging itself electro-chemically after a long day of thinking. I accept the truth of that. After a week of 4-hours-per-day sleeping (I’ve worked overnights!) I understand all too well the need to get a good night’s sleep to reshape my moody mind. Others think dreams are symbols of archetypal longings deep within our psyche. But these explanations lack romance, spirit and life! I know there are lots of dreams and visions in the Bible and every time some biblical character has a dream it has to do with God revealing a new turn in the journey of life and salvation. Moses had his burning bush, Jacob his ladder, and Ezekiel his valley of dry bones. I don’t know if I can say I’ve experienced such a direct call from God, but I’m open to the possibilities of what all that implies.

My approach to dreams takes in the science, the art and the spirit and leads me to a place where I can find meaning in the little mind trips I take each night. When I dream, I’m working through stuff that happened that day and sometimes stuff that happened long ago. When I awake I look for signs and wonders in the dream characters and symbolic meaning in the setting and objects within the dream. I ask myself what God is trying to teach me through the dream and how I can become a better man because of it. When all is said and done, I use the dream to help me connect to that deeper part of myself that ultimately expresses itself in my art.

How this all applies to walking is simple. When I go for a walk, I pretend that I’m in a dream. I ask God to reveal Himself to me as I walk and I pray for the Spirit to give me an open mind and a heightened awareness of my surroundings. Then as I walk, I take notice of what’s around me and imagine that it’s all part of a world that belongs exclusively to me. When I see an object I ask myself what I think it would mean if it were part of a dream. Then I pray through the meaning and allow it to help shape me in my spirit. Sometimes I enjoy the beauty of God’s world and listen to the sweet messages it wants to pass onto me. Sometimes I meet a part of me I don’t like and find I need to get rid of a bad thought by confessing it and letting it go. Sometimes I become incredibly aware of how grateful I am for all the graces I’ve received and I’m swimming in joy. And sometimes I go deeply into myself and receive a spiritual makeover. All I know is that after my dream walks I find I’m in a much better place than when I started, even if I just walked in a giant five-mile circle the whole time! And when that happens, I have so much material churning away in my brain that I can’t wait to get it down in writing!

One day, I was struggling with my attitude toward spiritual leadership and decided to go on a dream walk. As I walked I looked up and saw the sky filled with clouds, blocking the sun. I saw in this “dreamscape” a message of how I was being blocked from the light of the Son (not sun) and allowing the clouds of anger and sadness obscure my vision of what was right. Later that same walk I found a group of nails on a strip, the kind used in a nail gun. I picked it up and meditated on the symbol within the object. What came to me was the idea that one person can build a church using all the nails, or that same person can give one nail to everyone in the church and together they can build the church into something that reflects the efforts and spirit of each member. It was at that moment that the sky began to clear and I saw the sun. I took that as a more direct sign from God that I had gotten the point.

On another day I kept seeing only red or blue cars – seriously, for over an hour, nothing but red and blue cars! I thought about what was happening inside me and I decided to pray over my own lukewarm soul, which at the time was neither hot (red car) nor cold (blue car). At that point, I saw a gray car and then soon after, a white car. I meditated on the truth that if I’m to be pure (the white car) I need to look into the gray areas of my life (gray car) and get real with where I am. I had a lot to think about and a lot of good material for writing that day as well.

It’s like that all the time. I believe that God is in the process, whether directing cars from the depths of eternity, painting cloudy days and opening the sky at just the right moment, or simply unlocking my heart so that I may question how I see the world. I’m reminded of things that have meaning to me in the life that blossoms in the trees, the joyful song of the birds praising God for taking care of them, or in the wind that can sooth my soul in the heat of the day or move me in directions I might not be willing to go. In focusing on the God who is present all around me and within me, I shut out the distractions that stifle my creativity and leave my selfish, prideful and generally confused self behind. It’s a deeply freeing experience – a bit strange as I said, but truly liberating when I open myself up to it!

How much better would we all be if we learned to look at our lives from a dream walk perspective? I think we’d learn to let the annoyances just drift by without moving our emotions, like the car that cut me off today but didn’t ruin my life. We’d come to see the connection to the people around us and stop responding with fear, anger, indifference or disgust.  We’d find joy and tears in the thousand little details that we used to pass by without noticing. And maybe – just maybe – those of us who are writers would find new ways to express the intensity and awesomeness of life within our craft. It’s at least something to think about…maybe on your next walk!