Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bending Low

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, v. 3: “And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!”

I thought a lot about burdens yesterday. Not because my life is so overwhelmed with them, but because the trees were. If you’ve watched weather reports recently, you know that we in the northeast have been hammered with storms. While I escaped the devastating ice storm, this last snow came in full force, heavy and wet. I looked out in the morning and it was a winter wonderland. I took video. Every tree, every bush, covered in pristine white.

Then I took Ruckus for a walk. Huge limbs were down all over the neighborhood, blocking roads and turning yards into brush piles. The air had a lovely scent of pine, but it came because pine trees were gashed open as their snow-laden branches could take no more and broke from the trunk. Children sledded down a nearby hill, their shrieks of delight melding with the groaning of the pines. One tall, slim tree was bent all the way over in an arch to the top of another tree where the snow pack connected them like Siamese twins. If I were a bit taller I would have hit my head on branches hanging low over even the middle of the road.

I stopped and freed a young oak, bent so that it’s top almost touched the ground. Even shaking the limbs would only do so much. I had to knock off the snow clumps by hand. Then I went back to my yard and did the same, knowing that either high wind or more precipitation would do them in (and maybe do in the power lines as well). Overnight, those weary branches caught their breath and this morning they stand back tall, several feet or more above where the snow had brought them.

As braches shed their snow and sprang back (sometimes whipping my face on their way!), I thought about the Christmas carol, It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. There’s a lot of bending in that carol. In the first verse it’s the angels bending near the earth to pluck their harps of gold so that mortals can hear. In verse three, which I cited above, it is humanity that is bent low beneath life’s crushing load. Our lives often end up like those trees—so much falls on us all at once that we are bent over from the weight and simply can’t spring back up on our own.

What Christmas reminds us is that God noticed and sent help. God bends low first and works in our lives to get the burdens back to a manageable level. It’s a slow process, and sometimes when a branch in our lives finally springs free, we slap God in the face on the way back up, but the stripes God receives from our branches do not deter the work. Branch by branch, limb by limb, tree by tree, God lifts the burden of life’s storms—maybe not completely, but enough that we can make it through.

And what God did for us in that baby in a manger, we are called to do for others. Jesus spent three years in ministry bending low to help those under the crushing snows. But it wasn’t just about those he helped. It was about showing us what a life as his disciple was supposed to look like: Healing the sick, feeding the hungry, finding the lost.

If you look around and see the beauty of Christmas and hear the joy of children in the season, look a little deeper. The very thing that causes the beauty might also be bending some to the breaking point. Bend low with them, and help them up.

“For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet seen of old, when with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.” Amen.

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