Advent (Day 23): His Imprisonment, Our Freedom

I may have saved the best for last.

I never speak in absolutes about favorite books or poems or writers, but I think Luci Shaw’s “Made Flesh” is my favorite poem for Advent.

Of course, I’ve mentioned Luci Shaw a few times before. Advent may be pouring itself out into the glory of the Christmas season, but Shaw’s poetry is an excellent literary companion through the whole year. Might I suggest beginning the new year with her poems close at hand?

This one is worth reading slowly.

And repeatedly.


three flames\


Made Flesh



the white-hot beam of annunciation

fused heaven with dark earth,

his searing, sharply focused light

went out for a while,

eclipsed in amniotic gloom:

his cool immensity of splendor,

his universal grace,

small-folded in a warm, dim

female space –

the Word stern-sentenced to be

nine months’ dumb –

infinity walled in a womb,

until the next enormity –

the Mighty One, after submission

to a woman’s pains,

helpless on a barn’s bare floor,

first-tasting bitter earth.



I in him surrender

to the crush and cry of birth.

Because eternity

was closeted in time,

he is my open door to forever.

From his imprisonment

my freedoms grow,

find wings. Part of his body,

I transcend this flesh.

From his sweet silence my mouth sings.

Out of his dark I glow.

My life, as his,

slips through death’s mesh,

time’s bars,

joins hands with heaven,

speaks with stars.


–          Luci Shaw, from Accompanied by Angels


Advent (Day 22)

A prayer for this, the fourth Sunday of Advent:


In the dark of the year

I will light a candle …


for Christmas coming soon …

for Jesus born in Bethlehem …

for the angels’ message of peace and goodwill …

for the star that leads us all to Jesus …


May the light of my Christmas candle remind me of heaven’s light.


               – from A Child’s First Book of Prayers, by Lois Rock and Alison Jay






Advent (Day 21): These Farmhouse Bookshelves

I finished the Christmas grocery shopping today.

That means I have nothing to do for days but read and read and read by the tree. Well, that and wrap presents. I do tend to put that chore off till the last possible minute. And, I suppose the children will still demand to be fed. Strange how they expect regular meals even while on holiday.

But, still, rest assured, there will be a great deal of reading in the days ahead. I hope that proves true for you as well.

Here are a few more favorites from our stack of Christmas stories.


(You can find all my book recommendations here along with a disclaimer about the affiliate links I use.)





Today, I’m recommending three picture books, but wait … these books aren’t really meant for small children. My second-grader and fourth-grader enjoy these, but I would share these books with anyone from an older child to an adult.

This first book would make an especially nice gift for a poetry or art-lover.

It is Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening with gorgeous illustrations by Susan Jeffers.

With its intricately detailed illustrations of snowy landscapes, this is a book that demands we slow down. My children love to search out the forest animals hidden in each image, and Jeffers gives this familiar poem a lovely, new twist of an ending through her designs.

But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep

Christmas Day in the Morning was originally published by Pearl Buck in 1955. This picture-book version features full-color artwork by Mark Buehner.

If you don’t know the story already, I won’t spoil the surprise. I’ll only say that this one inspired my daughter to shovel the driveway as a Christmas gift to her Dad.

Buck’s classic story always makes me tear up a little. Okay, I have trouble not breaking down whenever I read it out loud.

The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I’ll remember it, son, every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live.

Winter’s Gift is another sentimental favorite (but what’s Christmas without a little sentimentality?). It is written and illustrated by Jane Monroe Donovan and tells the story of an old man spending his first Christmas alone. He is without hope until a horse, lost in the woods, brings with her a very special gift.

‘The star is the most important part of the tree,’ she would always say. ‘It’s a symbol of hope, and no matter how bad things get, you should always have hope.’


Advent (Day 20): Emptiness in Heaven

Before I began writing these Advent reflections, I had a very general structure in mind. The whole series would move, I thought, from dark to light, from ordinary to extraordinary, from dust and dirt to starlight.

Oh, the best laid plans.

Instead, I have consulted this writing plan each morning and discovered my own emptiness. No words. No stories. No ideas. Which is a desperate place and a very good place to find oneself. It has led me to frantic prayer and constant listening. Finding no stories in the plan, I have listened hard for any hint of story in my day.

Often, I have found my stories in my daughter’s difficult observations.

Yesterday, she said, “I think it must be the worst thing in the world to have a child who dies.”

little lights bw

I am a writer, and I abhor a platitude. An easy answer. The cliché we use to bypass actual thought. Even so, it can be tempting to fall back on those things when we are faced with the unanswerable and the terrible. But I have learned a few things from writing and from reading, and I have learned a few things mothering this daughter.

I fight the pull of the pretty, easy answer and say nothing but “Yes, yes, I know.”

She is only ten, but she already understands love’s terrible shadow. She knows intuitively, without ever being taught, that great love rips us open. Leaves us wounded and bleeding.

I have no good answers for these kinds of questions. I have no band-aid for this degree of pain. Today, I do not even have much of a story. And the writing plan? Well, that has been entirely abandoned. Sometimes, the world looks darker and more ordinary the closer we get to Christmas. Sometimes, there is no perfect, timely trajectory from Advent waiting to Christmas fulfillment.

But if I have no story, I do have this one thing to share with you. A vision of sorts.

After our conversation, I kept seeing a picture in my mind. It was my daughter, so full of difficult questions and a grief too old for her years, and she was wearing her angel costume. It is white and shimmery, and the padded, embroidered wings are gold.

I kept seeing her sad eyes against the white glow of the angel’s dress, and I realized, I think for the first time, how much our Christmas gift was heaven’s loss.

I realized how vast an emptiness the Prince of Heaven left behind him when he poured himself into Mary’s womb.

I looked into angel eyes, and they seemed to say, “We have lost him. We have said goodbye. How long till he returns to us?”

I can’t erase love’s dark shadow, and I’m not sure I would if I could. But I know that the parent heart of God has known it all already. I know he has passed by a heavenly chamber and found it empty. Heart-breakingly empty. And I know he suffered that pain for love.

And yet, the emptiness of heaven at the moment of incarnation is as much good news as the emptiness of the tomb.

This is the good news of God-with-us. This is the good news of our restoration.

This is the comfort of believing God sees our emptiness, our pain and says, “Yes, yes, I know.”



Advent (Day 19)

People, look east!

The guest is on the way …


A hymn for this, the third Thursday of Advent.




“People, Look East”


People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Guest is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there.
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Rose is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim,
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as the sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Star, is on the way.

Angels announce with shouts of mirth,
Him who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.


Words: Eleanor Farjeon, 1928
Music: ‘Besançon’, traditional French carol

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