Hallelujah! Immanuel and Christ

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The darkness of the night sky violently tears apart. Horizon to Horizon. Through the tear streams out brilliant light. We can feel it strike the ground. Violent burning hot light boils the mist off the hillside. With it, a deafening sound. A roaring, tearing, and rumbling at the edge of comprehension. Like whole mountain ranges crashing into the sea. The whole night is being torn apart. Everything is drowning in terror. I can barely breathe. The sky’s tear starts to widen. Like an eyelid opening in the night sky. Brighter than any day. No longer can we see the night. We can only cower.

Huddled and shaking on the ground. We’re covering our ears and closing our eyes. The light sears our eyes, even closed and facing away. Our backs start to burn. Daring to look up. Compelled. We see the sky opening like the mouth of a beast come to swallow the earth whole. Light starts to pour out of it like water falling down the face of cliffs. Striking the ground and splashing forth. Light. Louder and louder the grinding piercing roar of creation deafens. Compounding agony and terror. We cry out for it to stop, or death to take us quickly.


Do not be afraid.

Through the blistering thunderous chaos a voice thunders. This voice comes from everywhere at once. Everything is glowing on the verge of bursting into flames.

"Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you good news, that will bring great joy to all people."
Luke 2:10

In an instant – calm. Our eyes looking around. Able to see. We look and see an angel of the Lord has come near to us. He’s the one speaking to us. We are no-one worthwhile. We’ve been in the fields for days alone. We’re here to keep an eye on our sheep. We cannot afford to lose any of our flock. Or our families won’t be able to eat.

"For today, in the city of David, a savior was born for all. He is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloth, and lying in a manger." 
Luke 2:11-12

As we looked down to the valley, we see a number beyond measure. We’re encircled. The sky is still torn open. Now we can see. The eternal kingdom is pouring down glorious light upon us. From above and all around, voices start to cry out. Voices more beautiful than the piercing rumbles were terrifying. Our souls fill. We breathe in deeper breaths than we ever have. Each of our hearts fills with love we don’t understand. As we quicken to their praise, all fear has left. As with one voice, we hear them praise.

"Glory to God in the highest!
And peace on earth! God's desire for all peoples!" 
Luke 2:14

Again and again we open our mouths and join their chorus. Our voices twisting with all the rest. We can see with our own eyes this glorious praise rising up through the jagged opening in the night sky. Something happens within our chests as we repeat over and over again.

Glory to God in the highest!

Our voices feel like they are coming from the center of creation. From both deep within our bodies, and from beyond ourselves. That from beneath us each sound rises within, and our very flesh feels our praise. As if our praise is resonating with the eternal foundations of creation itself.

Glory to God in the highest!
And peace on earth!

Again. Again, and again, we praise God with this heavenly host. Our eyes can somehow see our praise. We watch our praise rise up to heaven. Our voices wrapping themselves with one another. A trick of some kind let us see praise like the wisps of smoke dancing in the wind. They rise up beyond sight. We know in our depths that they reach the very eyes and ears of God. We can no longer sense our bodies. Our selves are melting into the great fabric of all things. Of creation itself. Place and time cease being realities in the midst of praising God for this child. All that is left are feelings of love, of peace, and of hope.

Glory to God in the highest!
And peace on earth!

Then, nearly as fast as it began, the light itself rolls back up into the sky. The chorus that we joined returns to a place unseen. The gap in the night sky begins to close and the dark of night returns. Our eyes adjust in time to see the Angel of the Lord walking away from us, and then vanish.

We look at one another, and without saying a word, we walk down towards Bethlehem. As we pass through, the town is quiet. You can hear the occasional person sleeping through an open window. How did no one awaken? How did the buildings not crumble with the violence of the night? On the far side of town, we can see a stable nearby. Its lamps are still burning. With each step closer, our souls sing deep within us.

Glory to God in the highest!

As we reach the opening of the stable, they look terrified to see us. He grabs a staff and charges at us. Someone, not me, with panic in their voice calls out, “An angel of the Lord told us that Christ the Lord is here.” We see one another for who we are. Humble shepherds, and these two who look not much older than children. Exhausted children resting near a manger. An animal trough repurposed to welcome the Christ.

She was exhausted but her eyes aware, sharp, and piercing. She had clearly given birth recently. They are both covered in blood and the rest of Christ birth. She had wrapped fabric around her waist. It was roughly torn along the hem. Mary waved us to come closer. We could see Jesus wrapped in the same fabric as Mary. He was mostly cleaned up and sleeping.

At that moment, Mary spoke. She told us to tell them all that had happened. We recounted everything. They had heard and seen nothing. It had been dark all night here. Then we recounted the words of praise.

Glory to God in the highest!
And peace on earth!

It was faint, but all of us could hear the chorus of that heavenly host praise with us. We felt the presence of God as the Christ child slept. We realized that the angel that came to us was like one that had come to each of them.

Mary tells us this child is to be named Jesus. Joseph added that he is Immanuel. That this child is God with us. God in the flesh. God before our very eyes. Mary has her hand on her chest as we recount what the Lord has done. As we turn to leave, she asks if we would like to hear more of what she knows. She closes her eyes softly, and proclaims.

The Almighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is His name.

He has mercy for those who fear Him,
    from generation to generation.
He has shown the strength of His arm,
    and scattered the proud for the thoughts of their heart.

He has torn the mighty from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

He has given help to His servant Israel,
    and remembered His promise of mercy.
The promise made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and His children forever.
Luke 1:49-55

The shepherds praised and gave glory to God as they returned to their flocks. For the Christ, Jesus, was there just as they had been told.

Glory to God in the highest!

On this night Jesus was born. Our Christ. Our Lord. Immanuel. The king of a kingdom that is coming. One who will tear the mighty from their thrones. One welcomed by the lowly – who he will lift up. He is our promise. He is love, and his reign will never end.

Under the darkness of night, let us proclaim with all of creation.


A Blessing

In the darkness of your days, plant your feet. Let the praise of creation’s foundations rise through you. May the darkness part ever so briefly. For a moment. May your soul feel the words, ‘Glory to God in the Highest,’ and sense your way home. Beyond time and understanding – may you know you have a home of love. Of perfect love. Awaiting you. That knows you, accepts you, calls you by name, and longs for you to be home. For this, Christ was born. Jesus, our eternal King of His unending Kingdom. May the light of Christ warm your heart and bring you home.


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Reflection Points

These are invitations to deeper engagement and reflection. As far as you find them helpful, may you find time to reflect on them in solitude, quiet, and with the tender gracious presence of God.

  • Are there ways that you have withheld yourself from praising God? How might God be inviting you past your situation or circumstances into the chorus of praise?
  • Invite the Holy Spirit to illuminate times in your life that God transformed fear into praise.
  • Reflect on the humanity, the enfleshed person, of Jesus the Immanuel. What ideas about God keep you from an understanding of the full embodied God’s (in Jesus), and His full human experience?
  • For Ministers: How may God be inviting you to a greater rawness and emotional embodiment in your ministry and preaching?

Prayerful Practices

Divine Offices

The translation work for Christmas Vespers is not yet finished.

Lectio Divina

This Lectio Divina is from Luke 2:10b-12,14 and is read by Jordan Prins. It is from the Urban Monastic Translation of John. It is read three times and concludes in 15 minutes.

After the First Reading Meditate.
After the Second Reading Pray.
After the Third Reading Contemplate.

Breath Prayers

Glory to God in the Highest,
peace on earth one and all.

When my body shuts down,
help me feel creations praise.

Photo Credits
Overlay Images: Paul Prins taken 24 November 2022 in the Marais of Paris,
  taken 19 July 2019 in Église Saint-Séverin of Paris,
  taken 27 February 2020 at the Louvre Paris,
  taken 26 July 2020 on Île de Porquerolles, France.
Base Image: Paul Prins taken 24 November 2022 in the Marais of Paris.