Love * An Advent Reflection

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Photo by Pawan Sharma on Unsplash

Love * An Advent Reflection by Christopher Upham

The Heart of the Matter,

Being a drama in five acts

Act One: The ‘Word’ as Promise and Divine Mystery

Scene: Rolling pasture for goats as far as the eye can see, with encampments of tents dotting some hilltops. A weather-worn but well-to-do herdsman ambles alone among some of the livestock, seemingly talking to himself.

Herdsman: “I left behind the gods and customs of my own people. Here I am with the vast wealth I have acquired by risking everything. But I have no one who will inherit it. What sign do I have that I was right to trust You and abandon all else to Your promises?”

[Sotto voce, from offstage]

Besides all this land and livestock, I will give you a family. And your family will be mine. And in this covenant you will witness the unfolding of the mystery…[indecipherable murmurs, whispers]”

Herdsman: “Me, a family? And what mystery? You, a mystery? I’ll take your word for it. What else can I do?”

Act Two: The ‘Word’ as Law and Divine Provision

Centuries later. 

Scene: A vast extended family, numbering tribes upon tribes, is bivouacked at the base of a mountain in a desert place. A very old but very stately man–like one who is both a shepherd and a prince–can be descried on the mountainside, hollering into a growing gale as he ascends.]

Statesman: “What good is it for a multitude of slaves to be free if they are just a crowd of rabble? At least the lash of a whip could keep this assembly of sheep-like vagabonds in line. What now will have the power to hold so many willful and wayward peasants together, without the cowering fear of a tyrant or the dazzling image of a deity?”

[Sotto voce, from offstage]

“Here I am providing you reliable laws so you need not deliberate or disagree about how to remain at peace, in right relationship with Me and with one another. In this way you will show the whole world what it looks like to be my family. And by keeping these laws, you will witness the unfolding of the mystery that I AM…[fades to silence] 

Statesman: “…the mystery that ‘I AM who AM’? Look, these stone tablets may be heavy, but at least I can carry them off this mountain and read them plainly enough. What am I to do with this mystery? You are impossible to fathom with words. It’s like trying to grasp the wind…”

Act Three: The ‘Word’ as Peace and Divine Power

More centuries pass. 

Scene: A return to the rolling pastures from before, but now a fortified city of stone clings to the side of one of the taller hilltops. A lone man, with the lean muscles of a shepherd and the fine clothes of a king, strums absent-mindedly on a harp in one of the courtyards. He speaks though no one appears to be near.

King: “My Lord and my God, by Your strength my hand has conquered our enemies, and made safe the land of Your people. Now let me establish a house for You, where Your might and Your glory can receive the praise of my harp in the remaining peace of my days.”

[Sotto voce, from offstage]

The Lord of hosts cannot be contained in an edifice of stone, nor is My kingdom secured by wars or walls. My will is to dwell in the hearts of humankind, not upon the rocky high places, and to be victorious through mercy and not violence. Therefore, I will raise up from your seed a Prince of Peace whose kingdom will have no end, because it will not rest upon the power of the sword but upon My own Power. And by this promise you will witness the unfolding of the mystery that I am Almighty…”

King: “A kingdom with no end? This outstrips all that I could dare hope. You, oh Rock of my salvation, are the Almighty one, whose power will be known among the nations! Blessed be your Name in all the earth!”

Act Four: The ‘Word’ as Passion and Divine Persistence

Chorus [A bedraggled band of men and women, of all ages, hoarsely chants the following in the near-darkness. No one seems to be listening.]:

“Your people, my people, no longer remain faithful. They forget your promises and violate your law. They sell themselves cheaply to gain the favor of false gods. They are whores. They disgust me. What will You do to us? How will You repay us for defiling ourselves?”

[Sotto voce, from offstage]

I Myself will come to you and look upon you as a bridegroom at His bride. My faithfulness will restore your faith, and My mercy will return you to justice. And so, cleansed and stainless as a bride, you will witness, in your very selves, the unfolding of the mystery that I am Almighty because I am lov…

Chorus, dancing in a circle: “Almighty and gracious One! You are indeed loving and kind, tender-hearted and forgiving. We await Your promised salvation! We look forward to the revelation of Your mystery in such power that no one can ignore it.”

Final Act: The Word as Flesh and Divine Out-Pouring

Centuries elapse; no more whispered words. 

Scene: An obscure town surrounded by fertile plains of farmland, in a region enthralled to a mighty empire. A girl just about child-bearing age sits up in bed, awaking from a dream that began with a rugged herdsman talking to himself and ended with a host of hoary dervishes dancing in the near-darkness. As she soaks in the morning sun and lets the dream melt away, before she can say or do anything at all, a shiver runs through the room. A warrior of light appears blazing before her. She rises, walks a step toward the light, and bows her head slightly forward. Then, she waits expectantly, trembling like a bride.]

[A voice as unmistakable as a timpani]

“Daughter of the Most High! The Holy One is most pleased to make you the vessel who will carry the gift of the heavens, the fulfillment of the promises, the culmination of the mystery of the ages.”

Maiden: “How can this be? I have no heroic qualities, no royal pedigree, nothing whatsoever to gain the attention of men.”

[Now the voice has softened to the tone of a cello]

“Dear child, you are already perfectly suited for work set before you. What the Lord asks of you is not above you or beneath you: it is within you. For the blessing of God that will save your people and the whole world is a baby.”

The maiden inhales sharply: “A baby? You mean that God, in God’s providence and power through the ages, has pursued us to reveal that our salvation is…a baby?”

[The flashing figure begins to flicker out]

“The son born to you will be the Son of God, and your love for this Child will rear Him in the mystery that His Father is Almighty because God is love.”

As a single tear pours down her face, the young woman says softly to herself: “It is too good to be true. So may it be.”

W1899-1-1-pma
“The Annunciation.” Henry Ossawa Tanner, American (active France), 1859 – 1937. Made in Paris, France, Europe, 1898. Oil on canvas. 57 × 71 1/4 inches (144.8 × 181 cm) Framed: 6 feet 1 3/4 inches × 7 feet 3 1/4 inches (187.3 × 221.6 cm). Now in the Philadelphia Art Museum.

 

[Present day]

Me: “Lord, accomplish Your will through me today.”

Also me: “Lord, these people around me are so distracting; I can’t get anything worthwhile accomplished!”

[Sotto voce, from offstage]

“Love.”

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. –1 John 4:7-11


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Christopher Upham is a father (lead parent to four), a philosopher, and most recently, a burgeoning small-scale farmer. To see how he combines all of those things, you can follow his musings at ‘Finding Our Place’


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