Monthly Archives: December 2020

Guessing and Fearing the Future?

In 1785 the poet Robert Burns penned his famous To A Mouse after plowing through the home a mouse had made under what was left in the field after the crop had been taken off. The mouse scurried away in a panic, leaving Burns to reflect on the plight of his “fellow mortal.” He sees in the upending of this poor little creature’s world what all too often comes upon his fellow men also, who build their lives under the security of what is but a clump of dry grass… and suddenly the plowshare upends it all and the wind blows it away. Burns’ line on that has become a familiar and oft-repeated aphorism: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley [go oft awry]…”

He continues his lament with, “…an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain for promis’d joy.”

It’s these lines and the last verse of To A Mouse that came to my heart as 2020 comes to a close. Burns draws his poem to a close envying the mouse because it has no comprehension of the past or the future, whereas he looked back “on prospects drear,” and forward, “tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!” Many of us look back on 2020 just like that; we look back and see the ruin that this plowshare of a pandemic has wrought in our world. Then many look forward, and though they canna’ see, they guess and fear.

We need not guess. We need not fear. There is another plan beyond the plans of mice and men—God’s eternal plan in the Lord Jesus Christ—and it cannot go awry. We may look forward with great hope and confidence and God’s promised joy that the world cannot give and nothing can take away.

Praying all the best for you all in 2021.

Here’s To a Mouse in the original Scots dialect followed by an English paraphrase https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Mouse :

(They are shown side by side on Wikipedia.)

The original Scots:

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

Thy wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

The English paraphrase:

Little, cunning, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With bickering prattle!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering paddle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, that you may steal;
What then? Poor beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse green foliage!
And bleak December’s winds ensuing,
Both bitter and piercing!

You saw the fields laid bare and empty,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! The cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.

That small heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

Majestic Lowliness

Long ago while watching over his flock at night, a young shepherd looked up at the starry sky, overawed by it all, as many of us have been as often as we have looked up. David the sweet psalmist of Israel took up his lyre and began to sing to the One who created it all:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet… (Ps 8:3-6)

“What is man that Thou art mindful of Him?” Many of us have wondered that too. Why, God? Why are you interested in man? In me? There’s a lot compressed in that beautiful psalm—being made for a little lower than the angels, then being crowned with glory and honour…  What is all that about? And this—Thou visitest him… What’s that about?

It means more than to just pay a visit to someone. The word has the thought of watching over, attending do, caring for with deep concern.

Here is how it is best described. There came a day when the One who created the moon and the stars that David with great wonder was looking up to… He came down:

And the word became flesh…

Who is this—the Word?  Let’s read this more fully.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (Jn. 1:1-3 NKJV)

And then down to verse 14:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father), full of grace and truth…

That astonishes me, overawes me. The Word by whom all things were created—all things in heaven and in earth, whether visible or invisible (which would include the myriads of angels) as the apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:16—this One became flesh, became human, and “dwelt” among us. The Man Christ Jesus born in Bethlehem was God dwelling—“tabernacling,” or tenting, you might say—among men.

How lowly of God, the God who created all things, that He should do this, become incarnate as a human being. The whole story of Jesus’ birth is… how can I describe it? It is majestic in lowliness: it turns to tinsel all other majesty. He did not swoop down from Heaven full grown, a king in royal robes. He was born a helpless baby, the firstborn of a virgin teenager espoused to a poor carpenter. They had come to Bethlehem  because Caesar Augustus had called for a world-wide census and Joseph was required to register there.

Bethlehem itself was not a great city, it was a little town:

 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting. (Micah 5:2)

You can be sure that in calling for this census, the great, the majestic, the august Caesar, the ruler of the whole known world at that time, whom all in his empire were to worship as god… you can be sure he knew nothing of this ancient prophecy. There’s something else he didn’t know. The very idea of being anybody’s servant would have been contemptible to him, yet here he is, unknowingly serving the purpose of the August God of Heaven and earth who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”

Enter Joseph of the lineage of David, and Mary, who called herself a handmaid of the Lord (Lk 1:38). It’s not likely they had this prophecy in mind when they set out from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But they knew they were in the will of God, and were simply complying with what Joseph was required to do.

There was no room for them in the local caravansary; many others had returned to Bethlehem for this same purpose. So Jesus was born in a stable, and laid in a manger. His first visitors were shepherds who had been watching their flock by night when an angel declared to them the Good News of His birth.

This is the Word by whom all things in Heaven and earth were created? Born like this?

Yes. It was all part of the God of immeasurable greatness revealing Himself in  great lowliness. How could one so incomparably great but do otherwise?

Yet this was only the beginning of His identifying Himself with man. Here is the incarnation in the words of the apostle Paul:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:5-11).

What depths of lowliness are these? He who created all things was born a human being, and going further, humbled Himself unto death—not an honourable death, but the death of a despised criminal, so that no human being fallen to the depths of sin and depravity should be beyond the reach of His arm and His heart.

I bow the knee, dear Lord, I bow my knee—and my heart. You are mindful of man. You demonstrated it by visiting him. I know this personally. You showed yourself mindful of me years ago, and visited me in a time when my world had caved in around me… and You are with me to this day. I am so thankful. I love you, and worship you, thankful that where broken hearts humble themselves to walk with You, “the dear Lord enters in.”

I love that old hymn by Phillips Brooks. Here’s a link if you’d like to sing it along with me. I’ve followed it with another: Maker of the Universe by Phil Keaggy. It’s not really a Christmas song, but it’s what His incarnation ultimately meant.

O Little Town of Bethlehem – Carols (A Christmas Project) Lyric Video – YouTube

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see Thee lie
Above Thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And, gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the Holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Maker of the Universe by Phil Keaggy – YouTube

The Maker of the universe,
As Man for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.

His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.

He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.

The sky that darkened o’er His head,
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him its face
By His decree was poised in space.

The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.

The throne on which He now appears
Was His for everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.

 

 

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: