Friday, December 13

Now the Heavens Start to Whisper 
[Mary Louise Bringle 2005]

Christ, eternal Sun of justice, Christ, the rose of wisdom's seed,
come to bless with fire and fragrance hours of yearning, hurt and need.
In the lonely, in the stranger, in the outcast, hid from view:
child who comes to grace the manger, teach our hearts to welcome you.

What if we brought to our hours of yearning, hurt, and need the virtues of justice and wisdom?  Bringle opens this stanza connecting Christ with two of the Cardinal Virtues which were pillars of western philosophical thought about the good life from the time of Plato onward.  Christ is the "Sun of Justice," and the "rose of wisdom."  In classic thinking about these two virtues we have them defined something like this:
Justice is giving to each person what they deserve - the Greek word might also be rendered "righteousness," in the sense of being rightly-related to others.
Wisdom (Prudence) is the ability to rightly discern the real situation and one’s actual circumstance as it really is.  There is an aspect of clarity and sobriety with wisdom where you are not prone to fanciful versions of the situation.

The hymn petitions that Christ bring the blessings of justice's fire and wisdom's fragrance to our hours of yearning, hurt, and need.  Perhaps the fire of justice both burns away the dross of our lives and provides the light needed to see others and ourselves as God sees.  Perhaps the fragrance of wisdom reminds us of the Magi-gift of frankincense and the ways in which our prayers rise before God like an evening oblation (see Psalm 141:2).  I try to avoid hours of yearning, hurt and need.  It seems a natural impulse to try to avoid them.  But, Christ, who shows us what it means to be fully human, does not escape hours such as these and we probably should not expect to escape them either.

Not everyone approaches every Christmas with joyful anticipation.  For some the season is difficult.  Perhaps because the days grow short and the nights are long.  Perhaps because in one's family of origin the holidays were not a source for joyful reunion.  Perhaps because this time of year reminds us of how alone we are.  If we are feeling blue this Advent, this hymn offers the petition that God will  come to us in our hours of yearning, hurt, and need with the virtues which can help us pursue the good life.  It may help us to recognize that Christ, too, knows something of our troubles.  He who came as a child born to peasants, laid in a manger, soon fleeing to Egypt where he was hidden from view -- that is our savior who can teach us even in the dark hours of the season.

One of the best antidotes to an inclination to self-centered "woe is me" ways of thinking is to engage in an act of kindness for someone else.   At First Presbyterian Church Fargo we hosted the Heart and Soul Cafe this week -- a "pay as you are able" pop-up diner which serves and welcomes all people regardless of their capacity to pay.  Sarah and I joined with dozens of other neighbors from downtown Fargo to sit at table and practice the discipline of hospitality to all who were there.  I cannot help but think that it is the kind of ministry that Bringle had in mind when she wrote, "In the lonely, in the stranger, in the outcast, hid from view: child who comes to grace the manger, teach our hearts to welcome you."

Daily Collect:
Sun of Justice, rose of wisdom's seed - you are the one in whom all true virtues find their deepest expression.  Help us who desire to find and live into the good life, to follow you in paths of justice and wisdom.  May we see in each stranger a friend soon to be found, a child soon to be loved, a person soon to become our companion on the journey.  In Christ's name, Amen.

Paul Lang