nativity

Which Star We Follow

De L'eglise after snowstorm

It’s January third. And I think it’s safe to say that this year, there’s not a lot of optimism. New Year’s Eve I was at a small dinner party. One of the people there had prepared some lovely cards with questions on them that went around the table and we all had to answer. When the questions were about last year, each of us shared warm memories. It was great. Lots of laughter. But then came the question: “what significant happenings do you expect on the world stage in 2016?” And all of a sudden, you could feel the chill. Each of us had wonderful recollections of the year past. But most of us were quite apprehensive about the year coming. War, violence, financial crisis, disease, climate change, breakdown. One after another we laid out forecasts of doom. That’s what we saw in the stars.

When the Magi heard the king, it says, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star they’d seen at its rising.

Apparently, not all stars say the same thing. At our dinner party, we saw bad things. Trouble, and difficulty, and pain, and disaster, despite our fairly rosy personal stories. But according to the Gospel of Matthew, the magi also followed a star, right to the Messiah.

So which is it? Will our coming year be guided by a star of great difficulty, or a star leading to Bethlehem? Which ways are we being led?

Epiphany is such an important moment that every year it surprises me we don’t make more of it. It’s huge. If it wasn’t for Epiphany, there’d be no Christian faith, as we know it. Without the kind of trip commemorated today, those of us from European ancestry, at least, might still be worshipping the god of some oak tree or other in the vast, dark, northern forests.

To put it another way: Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jew and died a Jew. That is fact. Insofar as anyone in his day believed he was a Messiah, it was a Jewish Messiah. “Born to set his people free” as the old hymn says, emphasis on HIS people. That we who are non-Jews got in on the Jesus thing is actually kind of surprising. If wasn’t God’s plan – which of course, Christians believe it WAS – then it’s one of the greatest ironies of history (as Nietsche believed!). Christianity is what happens when Israel’s Messiah comes and everyone believes it BUT Israel.

We Christians are not the originators of the Christmas story. And we’re not even its first and most important recipients. Yet, according to Matthew, we were at least invited to the party. How do we know this? Because of Epiphany. Because of the Magi, the first non-Jewish worshippers, following the star to find the baby, born in Bethlehem.

So the very first image we get of our own spiritual ancestors is that they were pilgrims (which is, of course, great for me to be able to say!). They were outsiders, and foreigners, and seekers. They were also a little bit lost.

I started out asking which star you thought this year might be hanging in our skies: a star of difficulty and danger, or a star leading to the love and transformation of the Christ child. The irony is: they are probably both the same star. And isn’t that a pretty good description, maybe, of who WE should be, following it? Pilgrims, outsiders, foreigners, and seekers – despite often being a little bit lost.

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Tree Lot on December 23

German ornament copy

Maybe one of the saddest things you can do, the evening of December 23rd, is to stand on a sidewalk and look at a Christmas tree lot. It’s like peering into the fairy-tale ballroom after Cinderella and the Prince have left. You see the evidence of something magical. But no actual magic. And no people. There are tags strewn about, needles stamped into the earth, bits of twine here and there from the wrapping machine, placards wired onto the fence advertising the prices– scotch pines, ten dollars a foot. A Big “Merry Christmas-Joyeux Noel” still stencilled on the entrance. But the party’s over. All that’s left is garbage.

Which is why it’s doubly hard to see a tree, on such a lot, hours before Christmas. A tree that apparently, no one wanted. I empathize with those trees. On the lot by the church in my neighbourhood last night, it was dark. The speakers on the lightposts in Verdun were still playing Christmas music: Jingle Bell Rock and Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas. But on the lot, the lights had been put out. A half-dozen trees leaned forlornly against slat fencing. No one even bothered to guard them– the gate was wide open. You want a tree? Go on in and take one, someone would have said. If someone had bothered to be there.

The trees, so valuable just a few days ago – are now for the asking. The problem is, no one’s asking. The bubble of Christmas tree speculation – if we can call it that – bursts somewhere during the evening of, probably, December 21st. A Christmas tree alone on Christmas Eve is as unwanted as a turkey after Thanksgiving. Worse, actually. Because at least a turkey can stay frozen. People get hungry again. No one gets the urge for a Christmas tree in January. Not even a beautiful ten-foot balsam fir. And because they’re cut, the tragedy is, no one can replant them. These living creatures have been sacrificed for absolutely nothing. Actually, less than nothing. They’re a liability.

So there I was, my hands full with last-minute groceries, looking into the lot, hearing the carols, and thinking about Christmas. And abandonment. I was remembering all the times in my life I’ve felt like one of those trees. The times I’ve been at some conference and realized that all the important people around me were being taken up, disappearing one by one into conversations, lunch-plans, networking, wanted for their value. And I was left behind. The times, so many years ago, when I was a teenager, when I sat at home alone, my social capital less than nothing. Times have changed, in my life. That’s not true anymore. But my memories still remind me what that’s like.

And then I thought about my students. All those young people, on the day they start CEGEP or college, trying so desperately to figure out what might get them a job five years down the road. It’s such a crap shoot. The stakes are high. Some of them will get it right. They’ll be the ones snapped up like the premium Christmas trees at the beginning of December. Many of them will get it partially wrong. But they’ll get picked up just the same, like the tree that’s a bit quirky but just right for that family in the small apartment, or the one that’s sold for a few dollars less. But after that, a few students will see the promise, feel the action so close but so far, and for any number of reasons, they will be passed over. They’ll wind up like these trees. Those are the people I said a prayer for, standing there.

Then I thought about Luther. Because doesn’t a person automatically think about Luther, looking into a Christmas tree lot?  Luther LOVED the Nativity. But he said, and I quote: the birth was pitiful. There was no one –those were his words: no one – to take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her condition. She, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night. There she is without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness, no one offering her service. Luke says, in describing Jesus’ birth, that the family was painfully unwanted. Desperate.

And then I thought about my tree, in my apartment. With its lights it glows in the dark and makes me feel warm just looking at it. On its branches I’ve placed the memories of so many beautiful places and people and encounters. G’s friend came for a visit yesterday and said it smelled great. These trees, I thought, looking at the ones scattered and alone in the dark lot – they will never have that moment of beauty.

As I was standing there, a young man who had been loitering across the street from me, under the awning of the metro, sauntered across, hands in his pockets. He looked in at the trees, like I was doing. I thought at first that he had come to ask me for change. But he ignored me. To my surprise, he stepped right past me, into the lot, and up to the abandoned tree I was looking at. And suddenly there was an old truck there, pulling up to the curb, and other young people, two bearded fellows and a woman, gloves on. As I watched they began to load the trees onto the back of the pick-up.

Wait a minute, Hey, wait! I called out to the first kid. What are you doing with these trees?

We’re rescuing them, he answered, with a smile.

What do you mean?

If we leave them they’ll just go into some landfill. The City has a recycling program, but they don’t come here. So we’re taking them. Why? Do you want one?

No.

He shrugged, Okay. Better for us. We can use them. These ones are the best. They’re not plugged up with tinsel and all that other crap (actually, he didn’t use the word crap).

What do you do with them?

The young man evaluated me, but only for a second. With my hands full of shopping bags, and my Anglophone accent, it was pretty clear I wasn’t some sort of city authority.

We take them to our farm, and we grind them up, he answered. Well, not all of them. The really misshapen ones we use as bird-feeders. They’re perfect, like this guy here – he indicated one particularly straggly, ugly tree. We’ll hang bags of suet from his branches and the birds will just love to make a home in him.

The other ones – he nodded to the rest – well. He hoisted one in his hands. They’ll give their wood to mulch and their needles to the strawberries. They don’t make good Christmas trees. But they’re far more valuable for us. They’ll help new life grow, by sheltering the berries under their needles.

And then the fellow jumped in, and the truck took off, and I was left alone again. And I stood there, on that sidewalk, in the dark, and I thought about Christmas again, and about the angels above the hills of Bethlehem, and what it was they were actually singing to the shepherds. About a God who picks out – and picks up – ESPECIALLY the unwanted and the abandoned. The ones left behind. Who uses even that, even loneliness, and death, and injustice and oppression and the stripping away of beauty, as a way of bringing new life to the world. Who has never stopped, as it turns out, being the Creator. And I realized that there is more than one way to be noble. And many ways to be of service. And that the true message of Christmas is in a refugee child, leaning against a fence, forgotten but not alone, whose life means hope and whose death shelters new life, again and again, always Christmas. Always, evergreen.

candles in the snow

The Disappearing Nativity

Harburg Monument

“Now I can die,” said Simeon, holding the baby high up in the air. “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

Harburg, Germany, as some of you might know, is a suburb of Hamburg. In a public square in Harburg, near the S-Bahn station, there’s a monument titled “The Monument against Fascism”. Or maybe I should say that there USED to be a monument there. Or maybe I should say that if you go there, there still is a monument, KIND OF. Except that it was once there and now it’s gone. Or it’s still there. But you just can’t see it anymore. Or something.

When this monument was first created in 1986 it was 12 metres tall and 1 metre square, a tall rectangular pillar covered in lead. That’s big.

But it was also a performance piece. Most monuments are built to last centuries. “We will forever remember…” – this or that battle, or sacrifice, or person, or whatever. The typical statue, for me, is some bronze bearded guy on a horse high up in the sky with a bayonet in the air. You can see a beautiful example of that down on the corner of Rene Levesque and Peel.

But the statue in Harburg is very, very different. It was built precisely so that it would disappear. So that it would bury itself. Two artists, Jochen Gerz and Esther Shavez were responsible for the idea. Like I said, the column was (or is, depending on how you look at it) huge: 12 metres tall, one metre square, and covered in lead. Germans especially, but also people from all over the world were invited to sign their names on the monument, as a sign of their commitment to the ongoing struggle against Fascism. It was also supposed to represent their memory of what the past held, especially in Hamburg, where after the war everything was rebuilt as if those terrible years had not existed.

The artists provided two steel pencils so that people could mark whatever they want onto the obelisk – their names, their commitments against fascism, their losses, their hopes and dreams and their struggle against the forces that take away our humanity. It was supposed to be about memory and commitment. As it sunk, it was also supposed to be about how much of something we let go, or SHOULD let go, or not, and how much is permanently with us, or should be.

So here we are, barely three days after Christmas and where a few short days ago you couldn’t find a place ANYWHERE to get away from Christmas carols and songs, now you can’t hear them anywhere. We’re busy burying Christmas right now. If you’re like me, you’re thankful that recycling day is right after Christmas because it’s perfect – you can just get all that paper and cardboard right out of the house, pronto, and make everything clean again.

It’s amazing to me sometimes how big we make Christmas, and then how quickly after December 25th such a massive celebration sinks right out of sight. This is one of those times where the difference between secular society and the teachings of the church are the most glaring. In the church, I always feel like we’re saying: “not yet, not yet, not yet” BEFORE Christmas when all the ads are on TV and they’re having the Christmas parades in early November and cutting trees in October and putting up angels before the snow has even hit the ground. And then from December 26th on, when everyone else is rapidly forgetting the whole thing like it was some kind of overindulgent party, here in the church, we’re saying “wait, Christmas is not over yet!”. Hold on for January 6! The gifts are barely out of the wrapping before everything gets packed up again and the world is talking about New Year’s Eve and Retrospectives of 2014.

FORGET Christmas. That’s where most of our world is right now. But you and I are still being invited to gather around the cradle in Bethlehem.

When I read the Song of Simeon, or I think about the Slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem, and I think about the statue in Hamburg, it’s hard not to think that there is an unhelpful way for Christmas to disappear, but maybe also a faithful way to let Christmas go.

The unhelpful way is to to turn away in disgust from the commercialism and all the debt and buying and overindulging and to say: thank God we’re done with that. Or at least: thank God until we all go crazy again next December. Learning from Simeon, the faithful, grace-filled way to remember the Nativity would be to let it enter us in a more permanent way.

That image of that statue of lead sinking into the earth is extremely powerful. I remember a woman from one of my former churches telling me once how she accidentally stepped on a pin, and never had it taken out immediately. Over time it sort of healed over, and now for years it’s been embedded permanently in her foot.

For me, that’s what the Hamburg memorial represents. A needle in the flesh of the earth. It’s not really gone. That’s what the artists wanted. It’s there – and we can either forget it, or not. It’s a memorial beyond fading, because it forms part of the very fabric of the earth that we walk on.

And I think that’s what CAN happen, also, to the good news the angels sang. For some Christmas can just sink out of sight. But if take some time – in and even AFTER this season, to remember the Baby, and Simeon, to think about how life and death and justice are wrapped up in this story, then it can become more like that Memorial. Maybe it can sink into the unconscious working out, day by day, of our faith, no matter who we meet or where we go in 2015.

Simeon was content to witness the good news and then let it sink into him. “Master, let your servant now depart in peace,” he says, “for my eyes have seen this amazing salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” And he knew it wouldn’t be easy, either, for the people around Jesus. Why else would Luke have him turn to Mary and say, “and a sword will pierce your own soul also”?

Whatever else you can say about a baby, anyone who’s ever been close to one knows that once they arrive, whether you are a mother or a father, a grandparent or an aunt or uncle, the family is never the same again.

And Jesus, in particular, was to be a life that would forever change the world. Starting with the babies the Gospel of Matthew says were slaughtered by Herod, Jesus would turn out to be the kind of new life that resulted both in violence AND peace.

From the time it was first created in 1986, because of the incredible weight of all of that lead, and also because of the location the two artists chose, the Monument Against Fascism began sinking into the earth. This was what the artists wanted. You can see the thing on the internet, and see how it lost height every year as it sank into the earth. By 1993, seven years after it was built, the last of the signatures and the graffitti at the top of the column sunk below the surface. Apparently, if you go by that square in Harburg now, you will only find a plaque with a text in seven languages, reminding visitors of what was once there.

There is a text that the two artists put at the very top of that 12 metre column, and now it’s the only text you can read on a sign by where the statue USED to be. It says this: “In the end, it is only we ourselves who can rise up against injustice.”

We ourselves. You and I are in a world that would now like to forget the Nativity and move on. And in that context we are the living monument, the ones who have signed this remembrance and must now keep it alive. May the child born in swaddling clothes, the God made flesh, and the Word who came to his own even though his own knew him not, help us to live out the true message of Christmas. May we, as we should, become LIVING Christmases, embodying, as did the Messiah, God’s love in our lives.

A Pointe St-Charles Nativity

(with thanks to Alice Zorn, http://alicezorn.blogspot.ca )

From the south shore of Montreal, if you were to drive over the Victoria Bridge and then, just past Costco, turn left on Wellington, you’d pass the train yards toward my house. If you did that, you’d go right through Pointe-St-Charles.

We all know the Pointe. The Pointe will always be the Pointe. But it’s changed. Property values have gone up. Gentrification has set in. Lots of it is still a tough neighbourhood, but it’s mixed now – there are plenty of upscale places sharing space with some of those old, hard-times homes. And they really know how to do up Christmas in the Pointe. In particular, if you were paying close attention as you drove down Wellington, you’d see a very special Nativity scene set up outside a clinic.

Nothing special about a Nativity scene. Right? There are hundreds of them in that neighbourhood. But if you were to slow down and look more closely at this particular one, you’d be surprised. My friend Alice Zorn, a writer who lives in the Pointe, alerted me to this. The centre, when you read the sign, is actually a Birthing Clinic. A place where young women go to have their babies. Nowhere more perfect for a Christmas nativity scene.

Except that, despite how it looks, the Crèche out front of this Centre turns out to be NOT very traditional. There’s a roof, and what looks like a stable. But when you get up close and look at the little figures, the manger is actually a bed. And while there’s a Mary, sort of – a young woman, anyway – she’s not wearing a blue robe and staring peacefully at a baby Jesus. She’s on her back. Shouting. And there’s no Joseph, standing in a bathrobe doing not much of anything. There’s a midwife, in action, helping the baby to be born. And there are no angels. Instead, there are a whole bunch of other pregnant women figures, standing around watching and helping as the young woman gives birth.

The first time I saw this, I felt tricked. From a distance, it LOOKS like a manger scene. But where’s Jesus? Where are the cattle and sheep and oxen (even though the Bible doesn’t actually mention any animals except sheep)? Where’s the little drummer boy? (And Rudolph?!!!) And where are the shepherds and the angels?

This isn’t a REAL nativity scene! Or is it?

Well, that depends, maybe, on what the nativity really means.

In the eyes of many people, tonight and tomorrow are the highest pressure times of the year: Christmas. And in our usual way of seeing the world, Christmas is supposed to be about love and happiness and warm feelings and family and forgiveness. If we’re religious, as we are, then it’s about the birth of Jesus, which is remembered as a sort of lovely historical event that means something nice, but not always very defined, for us now.

If we’re being honest, we have to admit that part of the charm of the traditional Christian Christmas is that it’s set so firmly in an imagined, highly-stylized past. During the reign of Caesar Augustus a decree went out that all the world should be enrolled. And Joseph went with Mary, his betrothed, who was heavy with child, to the town of Bethlehem… and she gave birth in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn.

It’s lovely. The problem is, the past we celebrate is also wrong. I grew up thinking about Jesus being born in a stable, with straw and hay and cold puffs of air coming out of animal’s nostrils and the smells of a barn. I LOVED that image, the traditional image of the crèche, and the manger.

But in fact, as I learned when I was in the Holy Land in 2009, the place most people kept their animals in Biblical times, in Palestine, was in caves. So if there was no room in the Inn, Jesus would have been born in a cave. Not some quaint medieval European barn.

Our manger scenes are beautiful. But absolutely inaccurate. Which goes to show that maybe history isn’t the most important thing going on here, and that the Birthing Clinic in the Pointe may not have everything wrong after all.

So what ARE the basics, then?

There’s a birth. The most human of beginnings. The birth takes place in a marginal place, an uncomfortable, makeshift place, because of society’s indifference. There’s a young woman. A scared man. An oppressive political system. A baby. Witnesses who are used to living outside in the cold and dark. And God is present, being born into the darkest time of the year and the darkest places of our world.

On second thought, it sounds to me like the people in the Pointe may have the essence of the Christmas story exactly RIGHT.

Do not be afraid, said the angel to the shepherds. To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

Why? Why these people? Maybe Luke’s Nativity is a way of saying two things: firstly, it’s the poor and outcast and outsiders whom God is paying attention to. And secondly, it is what is poor and outcast and an outsider in US, and in our lives, where our Lord is being born in us. When we are stripped of all the fancy clothes, the bells and whistles and the pretensions we load on ourselves, maybe that’s when Christmas really comes.

Luther said, again and again, that the fact that Jesus was born in a rough and rude stable means that the Gospel can go, and BE, anywhere. In the most desperate of situations, hope can be born. This also means something very important for us: if and when we fail, and we find ourselves marginalized, or feeling like we don’t belong, or knowing we’ve messed up, or simply cast aside by a success that passes us by, then our place with God is not worse. It’s just as strong, or stronger. Do not be afraid, said the angels. This good news is for you. And this will be a sign, for YOU.

Above the unusual Nativity scene I was talking about is a sign in French that reads: Pointe St-Charles birthing centre. On ne peut plus attendre. Ca pousse! Which might be translated as: we can’t wait any longer! It’s coming!

That, also, is the essence of the story from Luke. Ca pousse! It’s coming! Once Jesus is born, there’s no turning back. Once Messiah has come, and come in a way that surprises and shocks and upsets the normal order, then nothing normal should ever be normal again.

For it is only when we are outsiders ourselves, and realize that we are so, that we can stand with the Shepherds, watching in wonder as rank on rank of angels fill our skies, singing their hope and love and promise into our lives.

“For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord.” What a promise. What a wonderful blessing. And in faith, and from faith, our answer is clear: Glory to God in the highest, we can respond. And on earth: peace and goodwill!

Drawing Angels

Rasmussen angel

You probably didn’t notice, but on Thursday night at the congregational potluck at Flemming and Kay’s, I snuck away from the table. I did that so I could go back into their living room one more time to have a look at a piece of art they have hanging there.  I don’t know where it’s from, but the piece looks vaguely Scandinavian to me. It’s a wooden wall hanging, of an angel. Do you know the one I mean? It looks like it was made with a jig-saw or a scroll saw or something like that. A tall angel, thin as a monk, hands clasped together, wings unfurling like sails. Right over the couch.

I love that piece. In fact, when no one was around I took a photo of it, so I could look at it some more.

This week I’ve been trying to draw it. “An angel can’t be that hard,” I thought, looking at the lines. After all, everything is pretty straight: wings, head, long gown, two feet sticking out. How hard can that be to draw, right?

Wrong.

It turns out I keep getting the proportions all crooked. My first attempt was too short. Then a bit too wide. In the end, I realized that I kept making the angel look more and more like a real person.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way, says Matthew.  When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace (ie. stoning, very likely), planned to dismiss her quietly. In other words, Joseph may have been ashamed and publicly humiliated, but he still wanted to spare Mary’s life, a far sight better than many men behave under similar situations even now, in the 21st century.

But just when he had resolved to do this, writes Matthew, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream…

Oh…. right. Angels. Who are angels? Messengers. And what do angels do? Apparently, according to Matthew, they screw up our plans. They do that even when our plans are well thought out, good plans, made by good (or as the Bible says, ‘righteous’) people. Angels do one thing in the Bible consistently: they intervene. They mess with us.

In my classes at Concordia, I have a little shtick I do with the students in my Intro to the New Testament or Intro to the Bible classes. “If ever you should be visited by an angel,” I tell my students, “I’ll tell you exactly what will happen and what you should do.” I usually say this with a big grin and they smile back at me, the joke being that we all know this will never happen.

But some part of me wonders if my ‘are you kidding?’ attitude toward angels is tempting fate. Who are angels? They’re messengers. Maybe sometimes it’s not that angels don’t visit us. Maybe sometimes, as with Joseph, they come in dreams, or in situations. And maybe sometimes it’s that we don’t recognize the kinds of ways that a loving, caring God actually might interfere in our lives.

I remember being in the metro once, just minding my own business, when a man dressed in old clothes, with bad teeth, came shuffling right up to me, out of all the people waiting for the subway, and said to me, very loudly, and pointing: “you just gotta relax, man. Take it easy. Whatever it is, it’s not so important!” Then he walked away again. I was a bit in shock. It was easy to see who the man was: he was a street person. That was clear. If I’d reached out, which I didn’t….but if I had, my fingers would have touched flesh and blood. I could smell him.

So he WASN’T an angel. He was some homeless guy.

Or was he? Certainly the message was absolutely the right one for me, at that moment. He nailed me, this man. I DID need to relax. That day I was stressed about all kinds of things. Now you could say that the man was crazy, he saw me looking stressed and somehow that set off some script in his head that made him come up to me. All that would explain the event just fine.

OR: you could say that some angels are flesh and blood, and this flesh and blood street-person was a messenger. And that too, would, I believe, be true.

When the angel appeared in the dream to Joseph, it said what ALL angels, ALL the time, say in the Bible. It said “Do not be afraid.” But then it went on, very importantly, to prescribe an action: do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus.”

Events were about to go one way, and because of the intervention of this story, events went another way. Baby Jesus did not grow up a street urchin to a beggar mother, which Mary might have had to become – if Joseph had, as it says “put her aside quietly”. Nor, to put it bluntly, did baby Jesus die in utero in a hail of stones, which might have happened if Joseph had been less of a man. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, child of Mary and Joseph. According to Matthew, all because of an angel.

When and if the direction of our lives needs changing, perhaps those persons we find at the crossroads are not just friends, but are standing in, as angels always do, for the love and wisdom of God.

You can’t get to Christmas, at least in the church, without angels. “Angels we have heard on high” we’ll sing. “Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining…fall on your knees, o hear the angel voices………all the Christmas carols we’ll sing say the same thing. The point is that the Bible speaks consistently of a God who is not just “out there” somewhere, but who gets in, close inside where we live, as close as Mary’s room or Joseph’s dream, where our hearts and minds, our ambitions and our sadnesses, our fears and our hopes and our embarrassments lie. That’s where we need, sometimes, to be spoken to.

So to come back to my dilemma with drawing the Rasmussen’s angel: I’ve tried several times this week, and I think I finally have it right. But the human-looking angels weren’t so bad either. They tell of another truth, which is that God can send all kinds of messengers our way. If someone has come into your life and brought love, maybe that person is acting as an angel. If someone has come into your life and brought you challenges, maybe that person is an angel of another sort.

There might be someone in your life right now that you could draw as an angel.

The one thing I hadn’t done right for the first few versions of the Rasmussen’s angel was to draw the wings as they are on the hanging. My wings were too small, and too tame. On the original, the wings are huge, fanning up over the angel’s head almost like flames of fire. It points to another truth: that however cute we might picture them, real angels, if I can use that term, will be outside our control. Their message, after all, is from God.

When Joseph awoke from sleep, it says, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. As we approach Christmas, may we remember to open our ears and eyes, to what messages – and what messengers – might be coming to us in these days.