Christmas Eve, for the first 37 years of my life, was filled with music and candlelight. My dad would do one of his “singing sermons,” and the songs echo in my mind and heart still.
“No room, only a manger of hay. No room, He is a stranger today… Angels in Heaven up yonder, watch with amazement and wonder, to see the Son of the Highest treated so!” No room.
I’d like to think I would have opened the door for Joseph and Mary that night. I’d like to believe I would have looked at the heavily pregnant, tired, young woman, and her worried husband, and invited them in. Maybe I would have given them my own bed.
However, as much as I would like to believe that I would have made room for these weary travelers, I can also believe that I may not have done it. Like everyone else in that crowded, tired town, I may have closed the door on the Messiah.
The Irish, historically, have placed a candle in the window on Christmas Eve. The candle represented a welcome to Joseph and Mary; and indicated, especially to the poor, that they may find an offering of food within this house.
The season begins with a welcome, and a candle in the window.
A long time ago, perhaps so long ago that few people remember, it was a tradition in Ireland to open the back door on New Year’s Eve – to let the old year out. And then at midnight, it was the practice to open the front door and let the New Year in. On this day we have a chance to start again (honestly, we can start again any day, every day).
On New Year’s Eve it seems appropriate to exclaim, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18).
Paul says, “He died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who died and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) We are given the ministry of reconciliation. We are the hands, and heart, of God in the world.
This week began, on Christmas Eve, with a candle in the window, welcoming the traveler. And on this night, New Year’s Eve, in Ireland they might set an extra place at the table. It is a way to honor and remember those who have died throughout the year.
They might leave the door unlatched, so their loved one can come in and join them at their meal. They wait in expectation, and remember their loved ones in conversation, and shared memories. I like this.
As Christ’s ambassadors in the world, as ministers of reconciliation, let us go into the New Year with the candle lit to welcome in the stranger. And may we always have an extra seat set at the table – remembering, not just those who have died, but those around us who need to be invited in.
Open the back door and let the old year out (it’s not too late). Open the front door (and your heart, and a space at your table), and welcome the New Year in.
These past months have been intense and full. Some days I manage that well, and other days, honestly, I don’t.
I decided to start work on a second Masters degree. And I’m currently less than three weeks away from going to the States for four months – which means preparing my house for someone else to stay, organizing the travel I will do while I am away, seeing people “one more time,” working out many details. That’s just part of it.
It is a well-established fact within my family that I am the worst at packing and throwing stuff away.
I’m really good at a lot of things – parallel parking, growing carrots, baking cookies, teaching…
But there are dark corners of my house where things are hidden – and I need to face them. Someone else will be living here while I’m gone and I want it to be a welcoming, calming, usable space for her.
So. Sometimes I cry.
Have I said enough? Do you understand?
All of that to say, that for the past few months I’ve been thinking about Moses. (I’m sure you see the connection there?)
Several months ago, a friend made this comment to me, “When God met Moses at the burning bush, and asked him to remove his sandals… I can’t help but think that perhaps God wanted Moses to feel grounded and connected through the feeling of bare feet on soil.”*
(You can read the whole story in Exodus 3:1-4:13.)
These words have changed the whole story for me. And in these weeks of feeling a bit overwhelmed, I keep going back to it.
Born into a society that wanted to kill him, Moses was saved by the courage of midwives who disobeyed the command of Pharaoh. Found on the water by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was sent back to his biological mother to be cared for until he was probably 3 or 4 years old. Though his biological mother raised him, he was the adopted child of Pharaoh’s daughter and she paid for his care.
Among the Hebrews, he was a person of privilege. Among the Egyptians, he was the adopted Hebrew child. As a grown man, he settled in the land of Midian, separated from the people of his heritage and the land that had been his home. He began a life there: an ordinary, everyday, working life, caring his father-in-law’s sheep.
On one of these ordinary days, “…the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not burned up.” (Exodus 3:1-2, NRSV)
Moses “turned aside to see.” God calls Moses by name, “Moses, Moses!” (This is called a “repetition of endearment.” In ancient Semitic culture, to speak a name twice was a way of expressing affection and friendship.
God has come to speak to Moses, and Moses would have known that he was being addressed by someone who loved and cared for him.
“When the Lord saw that <Moses> had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:4.5, NRSV)
I have heard this story many, many times. Moreover, I have heard different explanations for the instruction found in v. 5, that Moses must stop moving closer and take off his sandals. These explanations have centered most often on God’s holiness, and Moses’ unworthiness, God’s power, and Moses’ weakness, and God’s purity and Moses’ impurity.
But what if it was something more intimate? What if God is inviting Moses into intimacy with God’s self; that in taking off his sandals Moses is invited to feel the presence of God in that place?
In the act of removing his shoes, the man who has always been an outsider is joined to God’s presence. The physical touch of bare feet on the earth is grounding and personal and connects Moses to the burning bush that in that moment contains the physical manifestation of the presence of God.
Have you felt this?
I have experienced the intimacy of connection to God through the earth. And these days I find myself needing to be grounded in creation. There have been other times that this connection has felt like the only real thing in the world; especially as I have walked through dark seasons of grief.
I have sometimes been surprised by the joy of dirt on my hands and under my nails and the pleasure of preparing the earth for growing things. I have felt my spirit filled and healed by the connection to God through the ground beneath my feet. And sometimes, I just have to walk away from what overwhelms me and step out into fresh air and earth.
Whether you are standing barefoot on a hillside, lying in the grass watching clouds drift by, allowing sand to run through your fingers, or digging in the garden with bare hands, the feel of the earth is a form of communion with creation and Creator. The sounds of the wind, or waves, or birdsong – or the sound of flames burning a bush that is not consumed – are potent means of connection to the One who speaks each one of us into being and sustains us.
A conversation that starts with the endearment (“Moses, Moses!”) will move naturally to an invitation to intimacy, presence, and constancy, involving all of the senses.
Moses removed his sandals, and he felt God’s presence and power. He heard the love, concern, and friendship in the voice of God and knew that his own life and spirit would be forever connected to this holy ground moment and the intimate friendship of God.
At the end of Moses’ life, it was written, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” (Deuteronomy 34:10).
You are invited to take off your sandals and stand on holy ground in the presence of God. Hear God call your name. Twice. Allow yourself to feel the connection to the Creator through creation. Allow that connection to inform and form your relationship with God for the rest of your days.
You are standing on holy ground.
That’s what I would have said ...
 Stuart, D. K. Exodus (Vol. 2). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, p. 113-114.
*This brilliant, original thought came from my friend, Kate Bowen-Evans, MTh.
In the Godly Play Advent stories, when we come to week three we find that the candle lit for the shepherds is a different colour.
And we say this: Do you see that the candle is a different colour? It is the colour of roses. This reminds us that while this is a serious time, it is also a time of great joy and celebration.Read the rest of this entry →
I have always loved the day that “Christmas” comes out of the attic. I love the magic of lights and candles, colors and keepsakes.
My mom is a boss when it comes to Christmas decorations – she used to cover the mantelpiece with angel hair, lights, and figurines. I thought it was magical.
Mom would sit us down at the table (myself and my three sisters), and we would get to choose which Christmas cookies we would bake with her. These delicacies would then be plated up and given away as gifts.
Nat King Cole is the soundtrack in these memories.
The practice of placing a wreath of holly on the front door began in Ireland. Holly flourishes at Christmastime, and it gave poorer people the ability to generously decorate their homes.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time when the world is waiting and longing for light in the darkness, for healing and hope.
Long ago, Irish farm families would clean and whitewash every building on the farm in December. The buildings were covered with white paint or lime wash to symbolically purify them for the coming of the Saviour.
There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond
comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so
beautiful hecould hardly bear it.”
from The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Two weeks ago I was asked to spend some time “reflecting on my life’s journey”. I was given some ideas of how to structure this, but the impression that I kept coming back to was the description of the creation of Narnia as told by Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew.
Aslan sings and calls the animals from the ground, and breathing on them, he gives them voices and intelligence of their own. His tune calls the flowers from the ground and the chorus of the stars joins in his song.
Psalm 42 and 43 were probably once all one psalm. They were written by a Levite, a “son of Korah”, one who led worship for the people of Israel.
The author finds himself in exile among the Gentiles (43:1). They oppress him, mock and taunt him for his faith (42:3, 10; 43:2). It seems like it will always be like this.Read the rest of this entry →