Stop. Look. Listen. — Week 4

Welcome to the fourth and final week of Stop.Look.Listen. I’m so glad you’re joining me for this Advent series! Are you ready to press pause together for a few moments? This week’s post is also available as a YouTube video! Just press play below. Or scroll down for the transcript if you’d prefer to read as usual.

The way Advent has fallen this year puts its fourth Sunday right on Christmas Eve. I can hardly believe it has snuck up so quickly! Are you ready to stop, look, and listen one last time with me before the merriment and feasting of Christmas begins? Let’s start with these words of Jesus:

Across the River from the Capital by William Kurelek (1976)

Have you seen the book A Northern Nativity by Canadian artist William Kurelek? It begins like this:

“If it happened here as it happened there…
If it happened now as it happened then…
Who would have seen the miracle?
Who would have brought gifts?
Who would have taken Them in?”

Each page reveals the holy family in a different region or province of Canada. They show up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. They visit Niagara Falls. They pop up in a lumber camp in New Brunswick. They are seen huddled in an igloo in the Northwest Territories and driving a horse and buggy in Mennonite country near Kitchener, Ontario. The painting I’ve chosen for us today comes from that book. It’s called Across the River from the Capital. It shows Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus camped on a riverbank with the Parliament buildings of Ottawa in the distance.

I love this book because it reminds me of how childhood’s imagination can effortlessly blend and blur time and space. Each new scene in the book is presented as a dream of a prairie boy, the artist himself in his childhood. Each night he dreams that Jesus and Mary and Joseph are in a different setting, and yet he seems to be the only one who really recognizes who they are. These depictions of baby Jesus in the here and now remind me of what we’ll call the “third” coming of Christ.

We know about His first coming. We eagerly anticipate His second coming. But there is a third coming in which we encounter Him in our day to day lives, right here, right now. These are the comings we must remain alert for every season of the year and every day of our lives…when He speaks through undeniable circumstances that far surpass coincidence, when He nudges us to action, when He assures us of His presence and peace. These are the comings we need open eyes and open ears to notice.

The scripture we read today reminds us of another dimension of these third comings of Christ — in serving what He calls the “least of His brothers and sisters.” Later in that passage, those who ignored the needs of the poor and hungry and sick and imprisoned answer Him, puzzled over what in the world He is talking about. They have no recollection of running into Jesus. But what I found especially insightful when I recently read these verses is that the righteous are just as puzzled as the unrighteous! I never noticed that before. They also ask Jesus, “When did we see you?” I guess I just assumed that those who fed and clothed and cared for the less fortunate knew what they were doing. But this story seems to indicate they were just as confused as the hard-hearted ones who didn’t do those things at all. 

Do you know what that means? It means they weren’t piously going to hospitals and prisons, pitying the poor for brownie points. They weren’t blind to the faces of the individuals they were serving. They saw them. They saw them! And they helped them…for their own sake. Yes, in doing so, they were serving Christ, but it doesn’t seem like they were necessarily on some holy mission. In demonstrating genuine love for these people, they later discovered the pleasant surprise that they were in fact serving and loving Jesus. Their love was sincere, not sanctimonious. They were moved by the needs around them, not by any self-righteous agenda. I find that terribly convicting!

Almsgiving has always been closely tied with the season of Advent, but in our giving we need to remember that it’s the heart behind the gift that matters. It’s the heart that God is watching. It’s the heart that outweighs great wealth with only a widow’s mite. What is the state of my heart when I give simply to check that task off my mounting Christmas to-do list? Am I giving out of duty because I know in my head that those who need my help are loved by Jesus? Or am I giving because they are loved by me? Ouch! That’s a humbling question to ask and even more humbling to answer.

Do we recognize Jesus in His “third” comings? But even more importantly, do we love Him…whether we recognize Him or not?

The “listen” I’ve chosen for us this week is “Good King Wenceslas.” And since this is our last week of this series I’m going to leave you with two options, one by a Canadian roots rock band called Skydiggers (I love this version) and one by an artist called Menna. I can’t say that I recommend everything these artists produce, but they certainly have released beautiful versions of today’s song. I hope you’ll take the time to listen and be inspired by the story of Saint Wenceslaus I (who actually was Duke of Bohemia in the 900s and not a king at all).

The song was written by hymn writer John Mason Neale in 1853 and has persisted in Christmas traditions, despite being criticized as having nothing to do with Christmas. Apparently, the tune is traditionally a Spring carol. The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams actually predicted in 1928 that with the wealth of true Christmas carols, this one would gradually pass into disuse. But nearly a hundred years later, it’s still a favourite. I, for one, hope that it continues to persist as a reminder that “ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.” 

This concludes our Advent journey. I hope it has been a blessing to you over the past month as you have prepared your heart to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a New Year shaped by continuing to make time to stop and look and listen for the Lamb of God, for His love that restores, for the Light of the World, and for the least of these!

Rejoicing with you,

Other posts in this series:


WEEK 1 — Stop.Look.Listen…for the Lamb of God

WEEK 2 — Stop.Look.Listen…for the Love that restores

WEEK 3 — Stop.Look.Listen…for the Light of the World

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