The waves and winds still know

“Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know

the Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below.”

Be Still My Soul

Our church, this United Methodist plant church of some 14 years or so, has for the first time a building of its own. (Praise God!) After setting up and clanging shut folding chairs since this century began, all our coffee cups, crayons, and worship accoutrements are inside a brick-and-stained-glass space for the first time. We get to start being the neighbors and meeting the neighbors and becoming the church God wants us to be. It’s amazing. It’s divine timing; it’s a gift. It’s holy work … and it’s a lot of work.

But I found a hymnal in the midst of packing and sorting our Sunday school supplies last weekend. Our church doesn’t use hymnals; I grabbed it from the “take it or donate” pile; the heavenly answer to a yearlong desire to own a single book with all our school-year hymns in it with no YouTube rabbit trails: just, simply, “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” and “Trust and Obey,” in ink.

I love these songs. I love them for their poetry; I love them for the same reason I love sneaking in the back of a traditional church a few times a year to dip my feet into the bigger church story. These are rich songs. I love them with a little guitar; even a little new beat; I love the same old English. Simple. It’s simple.

Simple’s how we do Christmas; small trees and handmade gifts and a tiny budget (tiny, but cheerful). There’s a fatigue and a duplicity in asking for things from the kids’ grandparents while gifting granola and hand-sewn items, but we like our Christmases in brown paper and felt. And, you know, the girls really do need socks, and if Grandma wants to buy them, that’s all one for the team.

The girls’ requests are so simple that I wince — maybe soon, maybe next year they’ll realize the tablet computer their cousins have should be on their Christmas list instead. This year, they just want a new book for Christmas, and they don’t even care what it is. I love these children so fiercely after I put them to bed at night and think about this stuff. This is the stuff that has me looking at them sleeping and sighing deeply. Tomorrow, all changes in increments.

{I want to wrap my kids up in simple Christmases like a quilt, squeeze them tight and tell them the bunk bed curtains I sewed and the clothespin people I painted are theirs because I love them and because they already have everything they need — how else can I help them to know, now, that it’s not about the stuff? And maybe this is what God does for me, too. Maybe God watches me sleep and sighs.}

Maybe this is Advent: asking what we’re hoping to unwrap, and whether it’s stuff or something less tangible. This earthly advent is about learning to, all the time, expect Jesus to show up.

But this is also advent: the waiting, the expectation of things made new now. Two Decembers ago, I was up sick to my stomach with homesickness and dread over moving to Lansing; last year, I expectantly hoped for community. This year, I’m full, and I’m so full that all I want is that throbbing sense that God’s very near, as in ages past.

Part of feeling Him near is reminding each other we’re to help each other. So we do that sort of thing: we shop for our extended family’s adopt-a-family; we send Christmas wishes to Sebastian in Guatemala; they make presents for each other. Part of it’s acknowledging He’s here, amid the brokenness. Before we shopped for the family’s Christmas toys, a TV in a restaurant showed a cop beating a black man. We talked about it, and they’re starting to know: there’s a lot broken here. And still, we hope. That’s advent, too.

I want them, first, to know God’s very near, that he walked on earth, that he grew molars just like them. We take it back to that story this month.

We read Luke 2 in school. “I already KNOW this story,” Alice rolled her eyes. She rolled her eyes at the story of Jesus’ birth, like most adults probably do internally. What’s new? 

“I know you know it. But we read it to remind ourselves — God was a baby,” I said, and suddenly, I was speaking to myself. God breathed here. This is it. That’s it. Maybe after reading it for years, I forget how dramatic that is: and it’s my prayer they’ll feel it, too, and that my own dismissal of the story every day — my impatience, my fatigue, my annoyance over the fights over beheaded Lego men — that all that doesn’t get in the way.

My expectant hope is that God will draw nearer, and nearer, to all of us, as in ages past.

I’ve been flipping through this hymnal for three days, picking out verses for cards. I get a Sharpie and copy the phrases onto blank cardstock. What good news: “The weary world rejoices,” and this:

“Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.”

He dwelt here. He made this his home, moved into the neighborhood, as our church does; as we do, as we teach our kids to do. That’s all. May that be real to us.

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