Onward to 2011
Oh, God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be now our guide while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
Every year we sang this hymn at the New Year’s Eve service at River Terrace Church (East Lansing, Mi) as a grand declaration of assurance at the crossroads from one year to the next. The words creep, uninvited, into my mind whenever I reach a turn, an impass or an unexpected encounter in the road. At one particularly troubling turn, I changed the original words, “be thou our guard,” to “be now our guide,” because I needed more than a shelter from troubles. I prayed for a way through. And, of course I wanted a guide—now.
At the end of 2010, I can look back over this year and those before it and recount all the times the Guide showed me the way. I believe that naming times and places of God’s faithfulness reassures us that our guide will stay with us, come what may, along the open road of 2011.
December morn - Flat Iron Lake
Just when we are prone to gaze backward, the Christian calendar forces us to look ahead. In this part of the world—northern Midwest—we can certainly anticipate four to five months of cold, often disagreeable weather. But late November or early December also brings the season of Advent, a time for anticipation of Christ’s coming.
Advent: The Word becoming flesh and moving right in with us. You’d think, after all these years of reminders to get ready, that we’d be prepared—permanently. But no. We can’t even imagine what it would be like if Jesus were to come and live in our neighborhood or on our prairie. We would be forced to watch how we spent our time. We’d check whether or not our front door was open to the alien and the stranger or only to people we already knew. We know we’d have to change: to begin thinking more about others than ourselves.
When the kids were small, I used to sing little ditties to them. After hearing the first Salvation Army bell in the mall and dropping coins into the bucket, this old English song made some sense:
Christmas is coming.
The geese are getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a halfpenny will do.
If you haven’t got a half-penny,
God Bless You.
We’ve all got more pennies now, and the hat is still outstretched. We shouldn’t have to wait for his coming at Christmas or until the coming of the new heaven and the new Earth to know how to use all those pennies. But early Christmas ads beg us to spend our pennies and dollars on our family or our selves…Need is everywhere. The red kettle bell rings out the question: Which old beggar’s hat will you fill this season?
(excerpt from December, "All Nature Sings: A Spiritual Journey of Place."