When we think of God, and
angels, and The Angel,
we suppose ineffable light.
So there is surprise in the air
when we see him bring to Mary,
in her lit room, a gift of darkness.
From “The Overshadow”
Accompanied by Angels
According to Luke 1:35, the mystery of the incarnation happened in shade, and every year I come back to this weaving of words by Luci Shaw for an adjustment to my perspective on the season of so much light and love. “Made flesh” (A Widening Light, pg. 31) carries that unexpected image of shadow from Mary, in her “lit room,” to her Son, who was “eclipsed in amniotic gloom” as part of the journey of taking on a body.
In her poem, Luci Shaw has captured the enormity of the incarnation as a meeting of worlds — which is then quickly diminished to nine months of silence and a barn-birth-introduction to the “taste of bitter earth.” Ironically, Christ’s deliberate hunkering down and wizening up set in motion a chain of events that ultimately enlarges the boundaries of those who believingly follow Him.
“Now I in him surrender
to the crush and cry of birth.
was closeted in time
he is my open door
From his imprisonment my freedoms grow,
Part of his body, I transcend this flesh.
From his sweet silence my mouth sings.
Out of his dark, I glow.”
Like apogee and perigee, image and reflection, Christ’s monumental diminishment – related to his birth as a human – ushered in the possibility of another birth for his beloved, followed by a new life that is both qualitatively and quantitatively transcendent.
Christ’s “open door to forever” redeems the throttling of flesh and time for humanity, which is tremendous theological truth to delight in over a cup of Christmas tea. However, today, what matters most to me is that the claustrophobia of the never-ending December do-list, the frenzy of decking the halls and making merry are no more — and no less! — than 21st-century versions of Bethlehem straw.
My celebration of Advent is made sweeter with the confirmation that what happened in Mary’s tiny room truly was a meeting of worlds which “fused heaven with dark earth.” God-light shines through my petty particulars, and the Word can become flesh again through my life and in my deeds. Although tethered, for now, to this planet with all its weighty tasks and unmet expectations, I find that Advent is the flashpoint where I recall that I will one day, “join hands with heaven.”
In A Widening Light, Luci Shaw has curated a collection of over one hundred poems authored by a variety of Christian authors. She follows the incarnation of Christ through his miraculous arrival in a small, occupied nation two thousand years ago and into his ministry and miracles, his brutal death, and his victorious rising, “green again,” a “fruited tree.” If this were where the anthology ended, it would be brilliant enough, but the light widens, casting its glow on the Body as we find that out of his dark, we glow with “searing, sharply-focused light,” illumining the darkness and turning eyes and hearts toward another world.
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