Second — today is my dearest mama’s birthday. She was born 12 minutes to 12. And today is 12. 12. 12. — the last repetitive date we’ll ever see. So! Slipping quiet away here to celebrate an only-one-day-ever-like-this with my only-one-ever-like-this beautiful mama… and thinking about this, time and dates and miracles and one of my favorite Christmas memories ever… and more miracles tomorrow:
The dates etched into that one clay plate, it’s over 2,000 years old.
That makes the boys gape.
Makes them press their fingers against the glass of the exhibit.
Trying to touch time. Trying to believe.
Trying to hear me as I read the museum’s plaque in hushed tones: “Wizened and carbonized, these dates were discovered in the caves of Qumran… in the caves with the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
It’s the Dead Sea Scrolls we’ve come to see.
The exhibition, 200 artifacts and eight fragments of scrolls, all on loan from Israel’s Antiquity Authority, it fills the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum.
The space is dimly lit, nearly empty on a late Friday afternoon. The city’s out doing Christmas shopping.
The boys linger long over the coins from 1 B.C. The exhibit quotes the words of Jesus: “Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Caleb looks up at me. “You think He touched these, Mom?”
Who talks on hallowed ground?
“Take a picture, Mom?”
I point to the signs prohibiting cameras, shake my head, whisper it:
“Etch it right here, boys.” I tap my chest.
One stone has me stand long and quiet…
The rock’s inscribed in Hebrew with the words “to the place of trumpeting.”
The museum plaque notes that this is the most significant archeological find of temple excavation.
This stone once stood in the southwest corner of the Herod’s Temple, the second temple, where, according to ancient historian Josephus Flavius: “it was custom for one of the priests to stand and to give notice, by sound of trumpet” (The Jewish War, IV, ix, 12) to mark the beginning and end of Sabbath.
I read the words on museum plaque and I don’t think I’ve read it right so I read it again, slowly:
Jesus of Nazareth, as an observant Jew who came to the temple, would have passed by this stone.”
I’m standing in the place of trumpeting and I want to trumpet it, proclaim it, revel in it: God with us.
According to the museum’s display, the third word of the Hebrew inscription into the stone, the word broken off, can be interpreted as either “to declare [the Sabbath]” or “to distinguish [between the sacred and the profane].”
All is now sacred.
Outside the snow falls and Toronto’s busy, congested streets, dressed in its holiday style, sing with silver bells, silver coins. God has walked this sod.
God has walked this sod.
The whole planet’s holy, glorified by the Creator, the Coming, the Christ and who can speak profanities? Who can desecrate the Temple of here by treating the divine as trite, the hallowed as commonplace?
“Profanity is failure to see the inner mystery,” writes Elisabeth Elliot.
If profanity is this daily failure to see the inner mystery of the world — than Advent is about awakening again to the inner miracle: God with us.
That’s what Advent annually does: Advent scrubs away the profanities — the foul language we speak when we fail to see the holy of here.
God walked this sod.
God walks with us.
God works in us.
After we’ve gazed upon a first century tunic, the soles of sandals from the time of Jesus (the holy ground is here), wondered at an inkwell found at Qumran from the time when the Word that spoke the world into existence came as the Word held by the skin….
After all that — we step into the darkness of the inner gallery.
I find myself before the fragments that have kept the faith.
I had not read it before we came to the museum, which of the 900 Dead Sea Scrolls, texts of the Old Testament from 2nd century B.C. – 1st century A.D., would be included in the exhibit.
It hadn’t really mattered. To see any of the scrolls would suffice.
Only a mere 8 of the 900 have made the journey from Israel.
No one is standing near one particular climate controlled unit in which the scrolls are housed, so we approach.
“Which one is this?” Hope-girl breathes the words heavily in the quiet, shadowed vault.
“This is….” and something catches.
“This is … ”
I close my eyes and speak the words softly — these words I know by heart.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…—
We’re standing before a 2,100 year old Jesse Tree.
A Jesse Tree that had not yet seen the star shining in the manger.
A Jesse Tree that still only prophesied His glorious coming …
A Jesse Tree that could only believe.
What ancient hand, a hand like mine, wrote of this Jesse Tree while waiting, longing, still yearning for its future fulfillment?
The kids crowd around to peer into the glass boxes, into Hebrew words painstakingly inked across parchment made of animal skin.
I want the Word written on my skin.
“I thought they would be one long scroll,” a son murmurs. “I didn’t know they’d look so… ”
“Fragile.” His brother finds the word for him.
“Oh, but see…” I slowly trace the outline of the fragment on the glass.
“Aren’t these the strongest Words ever written? Words that have beaten back time, that have spoken of Him beyond time Who steps into time, to deliver us out of time… Centuries of humanity building lives on these very words… and they hold. Don’t let the tatters fool you, boys. There were never stronger, surer words — they’ve held the universe together.”
And at home by the fireplace?
Our own Jesse Tree stands on the other side of Calvary’s tree.
Our Advent — it is one of waiting for the coming we know that comes, of the prophecy fulfilled, of eternal life shooting from the truncated.
My hand runs across the glass of the display, somehow brushing against the hand who wrote these Advent words — of one who believed the inner mystery of the Christ in Christmas —- before there was a Christmas.
I want to find the man who copied down this part of the scroll, this Jesse Tree prophecy from Isaiah and tell him what he already believed:
It came true. It all came true.
Yes, Virginia, you’d better believe there really is a Jesus and there is a God in heaven and there is an Emmanuel who came, Creator of the Cosmos who wore bones to touch our skin.
And our Christ, He can be hoped in, believed in, trusted in; He came and He is coming again and He cares.
I want to touch the light-thin parchment.
When hearts are fragile, that’s when they may be most faith-filled — believing in miracles before life makes sense.
Believing in the miraculous coming — so there is real living in the moment now.
Believing in a God bigger than the burdens.
Believing — so there is living.
This is how the fragile are made strong.
And impossible shoots spring from the stump and He makes all our the hours and our lives slow into these endless sacred rings.
The inner mystery expands and grows us.
We root in Christ and, in Him, these limbs bear good, impossible things.
And Advent takes us into the holy of Holies to see again and Christmas cleanses us of our own profanities of perpsective.
Outside and all across the city, the snow, it keeps coming down pristine, the lights twinkling strong and sure in the dark…..
The Grateful Christmas Project: 7 Ways to have more Grateful Kids this Christmas