Monday, January 10, 2011

Giving Him My Yes

"And in despair I bowed my head
'There is no peace on earth,” I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It is easy to forget to savor the small moments, or take time to commemorate them once they have passed. On this early day in January, when the city of Tucson remains shrouded in grief, a few memories call out to me, twinkling like stars in an ocean of darkness... It was Christmas morning. The first we had ever spent alone as a family.

The fragrance of fresh pine branches mingled with the smell of cinnamon buns, baking in the oven. While I prepared the coffee, the girls stalked in and out of the kitchen in stockinged feet, alive with that peculiar brand of eagerness that only comes on Christmas morning.

Dutch sat in the blue velvet chair before a whispering fire to read the Christmas story and Audrey bounded down the steps to meet him, and was caught up in his great strong arms. Once her laughter had subsided she stood between his knees and batted her eyes, a genuine look of interest and curiosity streaked across her face, while Evangeline made circles around the pair, examining the designs in the carpet and only looking up to utter a single word: "Nice...nice."

Dutch read from a black leather-bound volume called The Life of Jesus. Its delicate pages fluttered like birds' wings, like the most delicate tissue paper – as if the book were itself a gift being opened – and a hush fell over the room. As each new narrative detail was introduced – the angel, the stable, the wise men, the star – I could see the story come to life in Audrey’s eyes, betraying a look of wonder such as is only seen on the faces of children…

Then came the shepherds, out in the fields watching their sheep: “And the glory of the Lord was shining around them,” Dutch read, his voice quiet and even. “The shepherds were very afraid. The angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. I have some very good news for you – Today your Savior was born in David’s town. He is Christ, the Lord…”

The words came like a shock, like a revelation. Dutch looked up at me and our eyes met – tearful, smiling eyes – as my heart expanded to take in the miracle: Today your Savior was born... He is Christ, the Lord.

It never happens the same way twice, but it always happens that each year, on Christmas, the story of Christ's entrance onto the stage of history - into a world that without Him is full of dread and gloom - strikes me deeper; its meaning and power penetrate further into the furthest recesses of my soul.

I don't know why.

Perhaps it is because I have had 365 more days of exposure to the horrific realities of sin in the world. Oppression. Greed. Cruelty. Violence. The swelling gravity of these things serve as a terrific backdrop for the work of Christ, which has the power to redeem the seemingly unredeemable, to bring life out of death, and to take the ashes of this world and remake them into something beautiful.

"Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled..." We sing the words, but can we comprehend their meaning? "Peace on earth" - it is very obviously not a peace which has been made manifest in the material world. Not yet, anyway. But for the anguished heart which has been stilled by Christ's touch, it is a peace which is true, and which endures. "Peace, I give to you," says Jesus; "My Peace, I leave with you. I do not give as the world gives."

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1). But Christ’s propitious death not only opens the way between man and God, but between man and man. He was born, lived, died, and rose to stand between us in all our dealings with other living beings... His death and resurrection mean that we can, by the power of His Spirit, truly love and be loved in return.

For this reason, for Christmas this year, I decided to give Dutch a tiny golden key with the word "YES" inscribed along the blade. After all (or so I thought), what husband would fail to appreciate receiving a symbol of his wife's continued commitment to love and honor him? But the idea wasn't mine entirely; instead, I borrowed inspiration from Maria von Wedemeyer, the woman whose engagement to Dietrich Bonhoeffer became official following a letter she wrote to him, giving him her ‘yes.’ With joy inexpressible, Bonhoeffer immediately responded. “I sense and am overwhelmed by the awareness that a gift without equal has been given me," he wrote, "– this 'Yes' that is to be decisive for our entire life.”

But the tumultuous times in which Dietrich and Maria’s love bloomed were impossible to forget or ignore – even in a single letter. And so Bonhoeffer ended his effusions with an admonition: “But let us not dwell now on the bad that lurks and has power in every person,” he wrote, “but let us encounter each other in great, free forgiveness and love, let us take each other as we are – with thanks and boundless trust in God, who has led us to this point and now loves us.”

It is because of Christ’s work on the cross that I can – not only in the springtime of love, but on and on, until the end – approach my husband in this spirit of “great, free forgiveness and love;” because of Christ I have the opportunity to do my utmost to make and keep peace between us.

And - perhaps best of all - through all the circumstances that work to try my patience, to test my endurance to its limit, I can exhibit and foster “boundless trust in God.” For I have His “yes” – the grandest gesture of love that ever was or will be, expressing itself most perfectly on the cross of Christ.

This, to me, is Emmanuel God with us. And it signals that the work which He completed, once and for all, on Calvary will one day be complete in me.

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is, nor not dead doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.’”

1 comment:

Joseph Anfuso said...

Beautiful, Heather. Loved the writing, and loved the sentiment.