But Jesus, “son of Joseph,” was both Son of God and Son of Man

John 1:43-51 Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.”… Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” … Nathanael exclaimed [to Jesus], “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!” … Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1957,

But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization (from “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma”).

On our vacation last week, Dave and I watched a movie called “The Help,” set in 1963 Jackson, Mississippi. In 1963, Dave was growing up in Bolivia and I in Guatemala. We both remember where we were when we learned about the assassination of JFK. But we didn’t know the social context the movie portrays. Our naiveté seems unpardonable, but we were startled all over again to realize “those things happened in our lifetime—a hundred years after the Civil War.”

And another 58 years have gone by, and our nation still struggles with injustice, discrimination, racism… How God’s heart must bleed for his children!

I’ve been delighted to find an organization whose explicit goal is to foster racial healing within the church, which rather than leading the way toward justice and reconciliation, has often been the worst offender. Check out Be the Bridge online and on Facebook. You’ll find a whole course you can take to learn or re-learn what we all need to understand. There are materials that have been used and tested across our nation to bring communication and healing to people on both sides, in mixed groups of believers. One of my hopes for 2021 is to get involved in another Be the Bridge group in the fall, if Covid is under control enough to allow in-person gatherings again.

Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison

This morning I heard these prayers on our church’s daily Youtube devotions. May they be ours today, as we remember the life and death of MLK Jr. and his longing for the Beloved Community:

O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Almighty God, grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Increase, O God, the spirit of neighborliness among us, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend to one another, and in homelessness, loneliness, or exile befriend one another, until the disciplines and testing of these days are ended, and you again give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

But the King is the Lamb

John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Since I sat down to write, the silhouette of a giant blue spruce has slowly emerged against the lightening sky through the kitchen window. I knew the tree was there, but I couldn’t see it until light eased in around it. Over the last few minutes, though I still don’t see color, details of contour and depth are becoming clearer.

For some of us, the events of Epiphany, Jan. 6, shone light on a reality we haven’t wanted to see.

John the Evangelist tells us his xará (what we call in Brazil a person with the same name or birthday) John the Baptist “was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light,” (v. 8), the true light (v. 9), who reveals God the Father to us (v. 18). By the time the writer cites John the Baptist as recognizing Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Chosen One (v. 34), he has already described Jesus as the eternal Word, the world-Creator, the Life-giver, the unextinguishable Light, the status- and family-sharer (v. 12), the enabler of new beginnings (v. 13), the ultimate boundary-crosser and cultural contextualizer, full of unfailing love and faithfulness (or grace and truth, depending on your translation, v. 14 and 17), the revealed glorious only Son (the rest of God’s children are adopted), the one who is “far greater” (v. 15), the unstinting Giver of one blessing after another, the unique One who is himself God, near to the Father’s heart.

It will take us the rest of our lives to absorb all this. We won’t see all the shades and colors clearly until the full light of God’s glory shines on Jesus, when we’re with him face to face. Don’t you feel a bit jealous of those who are already there?

And then John the Baptist brings us back to earth with a thump. Jesus is the Lamb of God. My emotional reaction is similar to what I feel reading John the Evangelist’s description in Revelation 5: And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it? But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it. Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory! He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

From bitter weeping to the excitement of victory! But then comes the twist: Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered.

No! No! No! Don’t do it! How can you kill the king, the eternal one, the creator, the life-giver?

I want to linger in the glory. But John (both Johns) drive us forward, force us to our knees, back to tears, our faces on the ground. The Lion becomes the lamb, the sin of the world is my sin, the gracious, loving, faithful Truth-teller reveals to me more than I can bear. And so he bears it for me, both the hard truth and its inevitable consequence. Do I really want the light? John asks. Because to live in light requires practicing truth. It requires confessing my sins and my need for his cleansing, the cleansing only possible because Jesus the King, the one who is life itself, became the Lamb of God, offering his life in my place (1 John 1:1-9).



But the light of Jesus can never be extinguished

John 1:1-5 In the beginning the Word already existed The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God…The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

 The arrival in Bethlehem of wise men from the East bearing gifts, following the light of the star, to worship the one born king of the Jews. The revelation that Jesus came not just for his own people, but for the world…We’ll have time to consider the significance of Epiphany as we walk through the next weeks, until Lent begins February 17.

From Shutterstock by losw

Of course, the Epiphany celebration of light for the nations is the air Dave and I breathe. I look forward to sharing stories with you from the ten countries where we chiefly invest. For today, I commend to you this video by Prayercast called “Shine,” Psalm 67 set to music, with stunning photography from around the world, shared with us by a friend in Brazil:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth.

But the unique One, Jesus, has revealed God to us

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Perhaps because I spent the day with my three grandbabies, on this second-to-last night of Christmas, I haven’t been able to sleep–this hymn keeps going through my head, encouraging me to leave my cares and concerns with him.

From Shutterstock by Anneka

I can’t think of a better way to continue walking into the Gospel of John. Over the next few weeks, I intend to draw “But God” Scriptures from John’s rich images of our Lord. Here are the words to this marvelous hymn. Listen to it again.

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would calm the storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby
You kiss the face of God!

The blind will see, the deaf will hear
The dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb

Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

That sleeping child you’re
Holding is the great I Am!

            Written by Mark Lowry 1984; music by Buddy Greene 1991

But God will redeem my life, by Meredith Dobson

Psalm 49:15 But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.

Tuesday, I didn’t feel well. Nauseated, stomach cramps, shortness of breath, no fever, but then my normal is low. Symptoms of the pandemic. My doctor said to go for a test. I did. It was negative. Three days later, same symptoms only worse. In my mind, I thought “Oh boy, now I have it.” I didn’t really want this awful pandemic but there was a secret part of me that wished for something that would relieve the isolation of my small apartment and for people who would take care of me. I wouldn’t feel so alone.

Friday’s trip to the hospital followed my signal for “Help” through the devices they give to older people who live alone. I had suddenly passed out, fainted, lost consciousness, and I knew I needed help. An ambulance came and took me to a hospital. I heard the driver say that I was a “suspected Covid case” – the name of the pandemic that awakens a fear of being lost to this life. The fear of being lost even from God is at the root of everything. At the hospital we were directed to the special entrance for suspected Covid patients. I was established in a single room with the door shut. No Covid test. I was moved to a hospital room. I saw many white coats one after another in a steady stream. Not one could answer me as to what they were about.

One day it was quiet, my door was shut, and I was not despairing but was wondering what this was all about. How did I end up here and why was this happening? It felt like such a mystery to me. No one told me anything and it seemed I had no particular doctor assigned to me.

I was staring at a peach colored wall directly in front of me. There emerged gradually a soft, pinkish light and an image formed. It was clearly an image of God. No mistake. White robe in folds, but he was smaller than I would have imagined. I just stared at Him in disbelief. I think even my mouth fell open.

He spoke to me. “It is me, my child, and this is Jesus.” He gestured to the man on his left side who I didn’t see at first but there he was standing next to God. He was a little taller but not much. He was a good deal younger and handsome like I thought Jesus should be. But it was God I wanted to know. He reached out to me. God did. “Come, my child.” I took his outstretched hand and he had me stand on the other side of him with Jesus to his left and me to his right.

from Shutterstock by Rachata Sinthopachakul

“Come,” God said, “I have things I want to show you. You worry about people who might not love you, you worry about being alone, but you are wrong, my child. Many love you, and their purpose is to carry my love to you. Come.”

He took my hand and did not let go. He led me down a long set of alabaster stairs and around a corner where I saw a big group of all my family members, arranged as they are exactly in a photograph I have. God talked to me about Love and how it isn’t always perfect, and it isn’t always enough of an answer, but it is the foundation of how people can relate to each other.

“Your family does love you,” God said, “as well as they can in the ways that they can, but not necessarily always in the ways you need. That’s why there are so many of them. What one can’t do, another can. But no matter what, I love you with all that you need. We stood there a while, God and I, pondering the enormity of what He had told me. Then God said, “Come, child.” And he led me back up the stairs.

Jesus was waiting. I took my same place to the right of God, but He gestured for me to be in the center. I said, “No, God, that is your place.”  God smiled and answered, “Today, child, you learned you have all you need; you can be in the center of our love. Now it is your job to pass it on, to share my love with others.”

But the Son gave us the right to become children of God

John 1:6-14 [The eternal Word, life-giver, the true light] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him…But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God…the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

Ephesians 1:5; 5:1 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. …Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.

My husband Dave is a man of many talents. But he would be the first to tell you that home repairs are not on his list of skills. It took him a long time to admit this, because he thought it part of what a “real man” can do. While he was in that phase, I happily called a repairman if something went wrong when Dave was traveling. When Dave was home, though, it might take weeks before he gave up and let me call for help.

One such occasion yielded an image that still amuses me. Our washing machine broke. Dave spent several hours trying to fix it. Finally, he emerged from the basement with utter frustration on his face. “Fiddlesticks!” he exclaimed. Right behind him emerged our two-year-old son, his face exactly mirroring his father’s. “Fiddlesticks!” Danny proclaimed, in the same tone of voice, repeating with even more emphasis, “Fiddlesticks!”

From Shutterstock by altanaka

According to the NLT word study system, the word glory in John 1:14, doxa in Greek, means radiance or splendor, with a strong association of importance and display of power. It refers to eye-catching, wondrous beauty, perhaps with a focus on the object shining or reflecting light. Glory means ascribing honor or giving praise, emphasizing that the person being honored is powerful, beautiful, and important.

Danny didn’t realize he was giving glory to his father by imitating him, and of course that’s part of why we laughed. Children automatically imitate their parents and older siblings. Our heavenly Father gave us his Son and adopted us into his family. Our older brother is full of love and faithfulness. Of the dozens of descriptors John could have chosen, after living with Jesus for three years, he chose these two attributes. Some translators use the words grace and truth.

Thinking of New Year’s resolutions on this seventh day of Christmas, that’s what I want: to grow in love and faithfulness, in grace and truth. To see how Jesus did it and imitate him.

What do you want for 2021?

But God is with us

Matthew 1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

The seventh “O” antiphon:

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Last Saturday night, our family gathered to enjoy a service of “Lessons and Carols” Zoomed to our church from the living room of our worship leaders. Our three-year-old grandson Caleb played with toys around the edges. Suddenly, though, he said, “Mamãe! O come, O come!” (Caleb’s first language is Portuguese.)

Valerie and Cesar have been following a devotional with their Advent wreath using this hymn. Caleb was delighted to hear Chris and Elise singing it as part of Lessons and Carols. Last week when I was at their house, Caleb met me at the door saying, “Grammy, I need to show you something: O come, O come!” He took me to their Advent wreath and explained to me—in Portuguese and English—the meaning of each of the candles. Then he showed me their creche, where all the figures—including one of his small trucks—were lying down. He told me he had put them to sleep “until Baby Jesus comes.”

We went for a walk in his neighborhood. Caleb was amused by the various holiday decorations. But what caught his attention were the homes displaying a creche. Those he stopped to examine in detail, identifying the figures and telling me about them.

From Shutterstock by Romolo Tavani

Emmanuel. God with us. God with us. Perhaps we’re so used to this concept we’ve become jaded. Perhaps we’ve forgotten what spectacular news this is: God taking on our flesh, living among us, feeling our joys, pains, and sorrows. Knowing hunger and thirst, our weariness, and finally, death.

For this last Waiting Room vignette, Scars, the setting is a grassy knoll beside Saint Mary’s Lake on Notre Dame’s campus. Karis had just received a diagnosis of avascular necrosis: her hip was collapsing, a side effect of long-time use of steroids to supplement her immunosuppressant, since she was so prone to rejection of her transplanted organs.

Karis was devastated. She took this last walk around Saint Mary’s Lake before submitting to the doctor’s “no weight bearing” order. Throwing herself down on the grass, she poured out her distress and grief to the Lord, and then lay there, waiting. And Jesus came to her, bearing on his body each one of her scars.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4, NKJV).

But Jesus is the hope of all the world

Jeremiah 10:6-7, 10 Lord, there is no one like you! For you are great, and your name is full of power. Who would not fear you O King of nations? That title belongs to you alone! Among all the wise people of the earth and in all the kingdoms of the world, there is no one like you. . . But the Lord is the only true God. He is the living God and the everlasting King!

Matthew 12:18-21 (See Isaiah 12:18-21; 42:1-4) Look at my servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.

Revelation 15:3-4; 22:2 They were singing the song of the Lamb: . . . Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations. . . All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed. . . On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations, we long for your coming. We desperately need your justice and healing. The whole world groans. “O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Photo of a beautiful card painted by Bonnie Liefer

Has any eighth (or ninth) century prayer been so appropriate for us, today, December 2020?

The Jeremiah passage reminds me of one of my favorite books, None Like Him, by Jen Wilken. And Chris Tomlin.

God privileged Karis with a particular role to play in calling the nations to Jesus, both costly and joyful. Perhaps that work is not yet completed.

A Key to the Door Karis ages 26-30, Pittsburgh

I positioned Karis’s wheelchair so she could punch the button to open doors into the transplant clinic waiting room. I watched her smile as around the room bodies straightened and faces brightened. “Mom—”

“I know. Here, give me those bags so you can move more freely.”

“All but the blanket I crocheted for Hashim and Aida’s new baby. It’s wrapped and in the green bag. I’ll go to them first.”

I sighed as I unloaded all our stuff in a free corner. Like all clinic days, we would be here all day. First, waiting Karis’s turn for blood draw. The doctor would see patients hours later, in the order each one’s results came back.

I walked to the drink bar to prepare coffee for Karis, tea for me. She was still chattering in Arabic with Hashim’s family, gushing over the new baby whose father, like Karis, had undergone multivisceral transplant.

I knew only a couple of greetings in Arabic, which I employed awkwardly as I delivered Karis’s coffee and her collection of morning pills. Nodding to several others, I returned to my corner. I wanted some time to myself before I too engaged in catching up with those whose languages I did know.

Sipping my tea, I watched Karis move from one family group to another, chatting, laughing, hugging, weeping, listening. With her five languages, she could engage in heart-talk with anyone.

The Arabic-speaking families matter most to her, I realized. As far as I know, no Muslim family has ever refused her prayer, or her gift of an Arabic Bible. They know she loves them. Who can resist a bright-faced girl in a wheelchair, with the same TPN backpack they carry?

Images like these flashed through my mind when, after Karis’s death, I read in her journals her perplexity over whether God had fulfilled his prophecy to her at age sixteen in Brazil: “You will be a door to the nations. Many will walk through that door to find Christ. You will be given a key to that door.”

At sixteen, Karis had imagined something very different from a wheelchair and a transplant clinic waiting room. Marriage to a dynamic evangelist, sharing with him a spectacular international ministry . . .  In her journals, Karis cried out for understanding, but never found it.

“Karis, can’t you see?” my heart cried as I read her distress. “I wish you could read the letters and emails that poured in after your death, from all over the world. People telling me, in several languages, they first understood God’s love because of your love for them.”

I don’t know whether the “key” was Karis’s languages, her love, or her wheelchair. Or all three. Or something more. I can’t wait to meet in Heaven the people who walked through the Karis door to Christ.

My primary motivation in writing Karis’s story was exactly this: to keep the Karis door open. Because “Anthony” said to me, “Her ministry is just beginning.”

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said to his followers. Little lights pointing the way to The Light.

Brighten the corner where you are.

But God lights up our darkness

Luke 1:78-79 Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.

Luke 1:78 KJV … the dayspring from on high hath visited us.

The “O” antiphon for Monday: “O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

These final lines from Zechariah’s beautiful prophecy always remind me of Psalm 30:5,Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. It’s interesting that this antiphon falls on the winter solstice. After today, the night will be shorter; daylight progressively longer.

From Shutterstock by Thankapon ch

This waiting room story continues the long vigil from yesterday’s vignette.

Flickering, Karis age 21, Pittsburgh

Karis’s doctors did not expect her to survive the night. Yet the long night hours slowly passed without the call we dreaded. When Dave and Valerie called from Newark, desperate for news after their long flight from São Paulo, I was able to say, “She’s still alive.” And before they landed in Pittsburgh, our flicker of hope grew stronger. Dr. M came to our private waiting room to tell us the story.

A doctor who rotated between labs at various hospitals happened to be on duty at our hospital that morning. This man, who had done his PhD research on Legionella, was probably the only person in Pittsburgh capable of recognizing this early that Legionella was the bacteria growing in Karis’s cultures. There had not been a case of Legionnaire’s disease in this hospital for twelve years. The head of infectious diseases had seen only one case in his entire life.  

“What this means,” Dr. M said, “is that each hour Karis stays alive strengthens our tiny flicker of hope a tiny bit—our tiny hope that there will be time for the correct antibiotics to do their work against the Legionella.”

Why did he have to keep emphasizing the word “tiny”?! Hope was hope. My heart latched on and held it tight.

From Shutterstock by Romolo Tavani

As we absorbed this information about Karis’s lungs, Dr. M explained the other big challenge. Karis’s transplanted intestine was disintegrating because they had stopped all immunosuppressant medication to treat the pneumonia. They had to get the graft out before Karis went into septic shock. But Karis was still dependent on the oscillator. Operating on a shaking body was simply impossible.

We needed a magic window in the next two or three days, when Karis’s lungs were well enough to transfer to a normal ventilator but before she died from sepsis. That is, if she stayed alive long enough for antibiotics to work against the Legionella.

Hour by hour with many others around the world, we kept vigil. Hour by hour word came that Karis was still alive. But getting her off the oscillator was just not happening. On 100% oxygen her blood gases began gradually to improve, but the nurses still could not alter her position in bed even a little without immediate decompensation. Her lungs were too compromised by the invasive Legionella. Every system of her body was impacted by the double threat of virulent pneumonia and runaway rejection. As her kidneys and liver began to fail, our tiny flame of hope flickered.

Two days passed, then three—the outer limit the surgeons had postulated for finding the “magic moment” to attempt surgery to remove Karis’s disintegrating intestine. This surgery would be more difficult than the original transplant surgery, but they would have to do it as fast as possible to limit her time under anesthesia.

Finally, on Tuesday evening Karis was successfully transferred from the oscillator to a regular ventilator! Surgery was scheduled for 7:45 the next morning. Our family lined up in the hallway that connected the ICU to the surgical suite. The ICU double doors suddenly popped open and the medical team came through the doors RUNNING with Karis down the hall to the OR, one of them kneeling precariously on her bed pumping oxygen into her lungs as they ran. We barely had time to wave and yell “We love you, Karis!” before they disappeared.  

And then it was waiting time again. We just moved from the ICU waiting room down the hall and around the corner to the surgery waiting room. The surgeons had given us no hope that Karis could survive such an invasive surgery, with her lungs, kidneys, liver, and intestine all in terrible shape. As the minutes ticked by, though, our hope increased, and seven hours later we were called to line up in the hallway again to watch Karis being rushed from the OR back to the ICU. Miraculously, she was still ALIVE!

Karis herself, deeply sedated, had no idea what was happening to her, or of the miracles that had preserved her life. For 74 days in the ICU, most of that time in induced coma, she battled one complication after another. When she was finally released from the coma, from the ventilator, and from the ICU, we were told she was the sickest patient ever to leave that ICU alive. Her reaction? “Mom, why were you so worried? Of course I didn’t die. God still has plans for me here!”

But God blesses his people with peace

Psalm 29:10-11 The Lord rules over the floodwaters. The Lord reigns as king forever. The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.

Revelation 3:7 This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open.

The “O” antiphon for Sunday: “O come, thou Key of David, come and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Peace, our fourth candle of Advent. Safety, the cry of the church from the eighth (or ninth) century when these antiphons were written. How our need for peace and safety still resonates.

How do you, personally, experience peace and safety when your whole world goes topsy-turvy? The Waiting Room story for today reflects one such experience in my life.

Touch, Karis age 21, Pittsburgh

“See you in about an hour, Sweetheart.” I waved as Karis was wheeled to the OR, then settled into the endoscopy waiting room. The doctors needed to know why she kept bleeding from her transplanted intestine.

Shortly, a doctor I didn’t know appeared, asking me to sign consent for a bronchoscopy while Karis was under anesthesia. “This should only delay her procedure by a few minutes,” he told me.

Two hours later, not the gastroenterologist nor the pulmonologist, but the chief transplant surgeon walked in. “Let’s sit down in the conference room,” he said. Only a person who has been there can imagine the fear elicited by those few words.

“We didn’t wake Karis up. She’s been taken to the ICU on a respirator. We don’t know why, but her lungs are in crisis. And her intestine looks much worse. All our efforts to reverse rejection have failed. There are many open, bleeding, ulcerated patches.”

Dr. M paused to look at me, and then continued. “I want you to do two things: call your family together and call your pastor. It will be easier for you to make funeral plans now than when she dies.”

My casual wave might be my very last communication with Karis?!

“Go to the ICU waiting room. There may be a moment when we can let you see her. Right now, she’s surrounded by people fighting for her life.”

My pastor came. I know we put together a plan, but later I could remember none of it. Dr. M came to tell us they had moved Karis from a ventilator to an oscillator, a machine that literally shakes oxygen into a patient’s lungs. “Make your hands into fists and put them at the top of your chest,” Dr. M said, showing us. “That’s how much of Karis’s lungs is still functioning. Come with me and you can see her from a distance.”

Karis’s whole bed shook. We could see that much through the crowd of white coats, nurses’ uniforms, and machinery.

The hospital designated a private waiting room for our family. They began to arrive, first Dan driving from DC, then Rachel flying from Chicago, and the next day Dave and Valerie from Brazil. They didn’t know when they boarded for the ten-hour flight to Newark whether Karis would still be alive when they landed.

Before Dan arrived, though, as I sat alone in our private waiting room, two women from our church knocked on the door. I rose to greet them, and one of them hugged me.

It wasn’t a “nice to see you” hug. She held me. She anchored me. For the first time I was able to weep. I felt seen. I felt care for me too, not just for Karis. I don’t know whether words were spoken or how long the women stayed. I can’t for the life of me remember who those two women were.

But I’ve never forgotten that hug.