Into life as it is.
Exactly as it is.
A million details.
A conversation with a friend who is dying.
The headlines in the news.
Worrying about aging parents.
Never forgetting my children.
Or my grandson.
Into my life as it is.
Exactly as it is.
Too busy to see.
Too distracted to notice.
God comes to be God with us.
The stories were written backwards.
By those who came later.
Written as statements of faith.
Not as a recitation of facts.
The only “fact” being their choice of Jesus instead of Caesar.
In a few days I will tell and retell the story in the same way.
Doing my best to pry open
Even the smallest of cracks
In my life
And maybe in yours, as well
To allow the witness of God with us and Peace on Earth
To turn our lives
Right side up
On New Year’s Eve, while two million people converged on Times Square, Shodie and I resisted the urge to join them and went to see a movie instead. We saw Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie. Maybe you have heard of it? The Empire, which wants to rule the universe, is building the Death Star which has the capability of destroying an entire planet with a push of a button. On the other side stands the somewhat ragtag Rebellion trying to figure out how to stop them and to preserve freedom. It was a typical Star Wars/good vs. evil/right vs. wrong plot, but enjoyable nevertheless. As I walked out of the theater on New Year’s Eve, I remember going to see the first Star Wars movie in 1977 in Rockford, IL in which the Death Star was fully operational.
I don’t think there are any spoiler alerts here if you haven’t seen and plan to see the movie. The plot of the movie centers around a female heroine. Jyn Erso. When she was a child her father, who was a famous scientist and who had been in hiding with his family, was abducted by the Empire to complete the work on the Death Star. Under pressure, he does so, but incorporates into the Death Star a fatal flaw. Learning what her father had done, Jyn Erso’s mission becomes to steal the plans of the Death Star, get them to the Rebellion so they can be analyzed and the fatal flaw found and an attack strategy put in place. The rest of the movie is the struggle between courage and cautiousness, loyalty and indifference and spacecraft jumping in and out of hyperspace.
So, you wonder…
What does all this have to do with wise men and Herod and following a star and this final Sunday of Christmas as we celebrate Epiphany? I am glad you asked. The turning point in the movie comes when Jyn Erso confronts the reluctant leaders of the Rebellion who see no possible way to resist the Empire and are about to to give up and to turn away. Facing them down, she says to them, “The Rebellion is built on hope.”
And, that I think is the meaning of Christmas.
Maybe not so much the rebellion part.
At least with the images Star Wars and what that word usually brings to mind for us.
But, once you step beyond the candlelight and carols we usually associate with Christmas and back towards the witness of the Bible, the underlying and fundamental message of Christmas is about a rebellion.
About a different set of priorities.
About a different vision of and for the human family.
And, about a world turned right side up in the direction of God’s promised Kingdom.
The Biblical narratives about the birth of Jesus asks the question:
Which of these will command your allegiance?
Caesar as the Son of God or Jesus as the Son of God?
The calculating politics of Herod or the witness and wisdom of the Magi?
Pax Romana. The peace promised and enforced by the Empire.
Or, the peace promised by God and proclaimed by the angels which will be on that day when all of God’s children see and live with each other as sisters and brothers?
And, since the Bible is never just about then, but also about now.
And, never just about them, but also about you and me.
The tension and question we find in the Christmas narrative remain.
Waiting now for how you and I might respond.
Christmas is built on hope.
Built on a way of seeing and understanding your own life and envisioning the world entrusted now to our care and keeping. A hope which holds onto the promise of God with us in all the moments we have to live. Not just in the joys and sorrows, successes and struggles which are a part of our lives, but God with us in the everyday moments and the everyday encounters which make up 90% of our lives.
Ordinary lives tinged with the holy.
My ordinary life.
Your ordinary life.
Their ordinary life.
The question is do we chose to live holding onto this hope?
Believing it enough to claim it for ourselves and to see it in each other?
And, Christmas is built on that dream and possibility and promise of peace on earth.
Beyond Caesar and Herod.
Beyond Jew and Gentile.
Beyond authoritarian power and the huddled masses.
Peace beyond the wrangling in Congress and the divisiveness and subtle racism in our country and the heartbreak of Syria. Peace that is the intent of God and the Dream of God and therefore to be the intent and dream of the People of God. The hope built into Christmas provides both the vision and the courage for us to work towards making that dream a reality.
There is a verse in Hebrew scripture, in the book of Proverbs, (Proverbs 29:18 if you want to look it up.) which, in more recent translations of the Bible, scholars have adjusted or corrected to read: “Where there is no prophecy, the people cast of restraint.”
But I like the previous translation better which read:
Where there is no vision the people perish.
Christmas asks the question…
What type of future do you imagine?
And, what type of future are you willing to work towards?
The renowned pastor and preacher, William Sloan Coffin said,
“It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, ‘Let justice roll down like mighty waters.’ and quite another to work out the irrigation system.”
I get that.
I know there are different views and opinions on almost any topic we could name.
Security and peace. Healthcare. Economic empowerment.
And, that figuring out the irrigation system is hard and messy work.
But, I hope…
That our being here together in the waning days of Christmas, we can hold onto that hope and remember and claim the dream of God wrapped up in the birth of Jesus.
It is easier, isn’t it, to feel ready for Christmas when our lives feel stable and secure. Harder when we feel anxious or afraid or uncertain which is the way many people feel today. And, truth be told, maybe the way most of God’s children feel that most of the time.
Yet, the good news is…
No matter how we feel
Or the state of our lives or world
And God comes (again) to be God with us.
A Reflection based on Matthew 1: 18-25
I know all the words.
Unchangeable in being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
I know all that.
And, I know both goodness and beauty which stops me in my tracks.
And awe which takes my breath away and reminds me there is so much more than me.
And mystery which swallows me up and reminds me how little I really know or understand.
And I know love. Thank God I know love.
I know God is all that. And more.
More than me. More than us. More than I can know or name.
Rock of Ages. Ground of Being. Higher Power. Infinite Unknown.
I know all that.
I need all that.
But I also need this.
I need Emmanuel.
God with us. God with me.
Right here. Right now. Just as I am.
I need God with me when I walk through that Valley of the Shadow of Death.
I need God at my side when I listen closely to a friend and the conversation goes deep.
I need God with me when I do what I can to stand hard against hatred or indifference.
I need God with me when I struggle with the headlines in the news.
Or with the brokenness and searching of my own life.
I need God with me when all I can do is whisper Thank you.
And, when there are tears in my eyes…whether from joy or from sorrow.
And so come, angel of God.
Come again and whisper his name in my ear.
And so remind me when I need it the most.
That God comes to us again to be Emmanuel.
God with us.
Each and every step of the way.