In the dark

For the last several months or so, I’ve been reading Frederick Buechner’s book Listening to Your Life during a part of my quiet time each morning. (Don’t freak out! I spend a significant portion of my time in Scripture!)

Listening to Your Life is a devotion book that’s compiled of excerpts of Buechner’s writings in various other books and sermons. Sometimes it’s a paragraph; sometimes it’s barely a sentence. Some days, the selected reading hits me upside the head and some days I walk away puzzled.

But today’s reading regarding Advent and Christmas was just too good not to share. So I thought I’d post it here in it’s entirity, with a few comments of my own at the end. May it bless you in this Christmas season.

A Visit We Remember   December 2

It was thousands of years ago and thousands of miles away, but it is a visit that for all our madness and cynicism and indifference and despair we have never quite forgotten. The oxen in their stalls. The smell of hay. The shepherds standing around. That child and that place are somehow the closest of all close encounters, the one we are closest to, the one that brings us closest to something that cannot be told in any other way. This story that faith tells in the fairytale language of faith is not just that God is, but that God comes. Comes here. “In great humility.” There is nothing much humbler than being born: naked, totally helpless, not much bigger than a loaf of bread. But with righteousness and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. And to us came. For us came. Is it true—not just the way fairytales are true but as the truest of all truths? Almighty God, are you true?

When you are standing up to your neck in darkness, how do you say yes to that question? You say yes, I suppose, the only way faith can ever say it if it is honest with itself. You say yes with your fingers crossed. You say it with your heart in your mouth. Maybe that way we can say yes. He visited us. The world has never been quite the same since. It is still a very dark world, in some ways darker than ever before, but the darkness is different because he keeps getting born into it. The threat of holocaust. The threat of poisoning the earth and sea and air. The threat of our own deaths. The broken marriage. The child in pain. The lost chance. Anyone who has ever known him has known him perhaps better in the dark than anywhere else because it is in the dark where he seems to visit most often.*

Maybe that reading touches me because I know that Buechner has hit on truth in it. In the darkest moment of my faith—when I felt faithless and wasn’t sure if I even could believe that what His Word said was true—I have had the most amazing sense of Emmanuel. God with us. That I was not alone. That it wasn’t me holding on to the faith with white-knuckled hands, but it was Him cradling me. I’ve been held in the darkness by nail-scarred hands. I cannot walk away because He did not walk away from me.

Emmanuel. God with us. May He be very near in your life this Christmas season!

* Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life (New York: Harper Collins Publishers), 1992, p. 315-316
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