Wednesday, December 26, 2007

incarnation, creation, destruction

I always dread this week's scripture passage, from Matthew. Reading past the joyous bits of the Christmas story, it takes us rather quickly to reminders of the harsh realities of life.

So, our joy at celebrating the divine being incarnate--human--in Jesus the Christ, hits up against the reality that humans can be brutal. Especially humans who are afraid of losing their power. In this week's scripture, it's King Herod, but he's not so special: he enacts the same ugly, dispicable violence that others chose before and since. He murders innocent people in an attempt to prevent one who might question his authority.

Joseph, who plays the part of father to Jesus, gets a message from an angel in a dream, and flees to Egypt so that Jesus might avoid being murdered.

Ah, that this was a unique story!

We immediately recall the ugliness of Pharaoh's order to kill children in Egypt, back when Moses was a small boy. And, we think of so many others. Victims of genocide, "collateral damage" in war, refugees around the world.

Of course, we also know more of the story that will come: every week, as we celebrate Holy Communion, we remember Jesus broken body in our broken bread. We know that, though he avoids Herod's murderous order here, he will yet find his own death.

And, we know that he will show us a way to be connected to God that frees us from fear of death. Not because we imagine that the world is all sweetness and light, but because we know God's presence with us and with all creation here and now, and way, way beyond.

So maybe it is a joyous Christmas story, even with all its violence. We've noticed that there's ugly, unjust, brutal violence in the world. Here, we're given a chance to know and give thanks for God's presence with us in the midst of that reality, and we're invited to a new reality, in which even such violence cannot have ultimate power over us. We're invited to know God's love deeply, and we're invited to dare to respond to the world with the same grace that Jesus the Christ lived.

My hope is that it will also inspire us to be more attentive to those who suffer from unjust violence in our world--that our retelling of this story will help direct our living in such a way that we will claim the reality of the dignity and holiness of all creation, and that it will mean we fearlessly care for one another.

Monday, December 17, 2007

christmas solidarity

As I pondered themes in this week's scripture passages from Matthew and from Isaiah, I initially thought that "faithfulness" was the idea I'd preach on. Mary and Joseph both choose faithfulness to one another, to this unlikely pregnancy, and (above all) to God. God chooses faithfulness to us all--becoming Emmanuel, "God with us."

The more I pondered this (taking my cue from Mary, who we all know pondered these things in her heart...), the more it seemed like "faithfulness" doesn't quite capture it all. And, besides, when I think of faithfulness, in our time and culture, I often think of it as being passive or restrained. (As in, remaining "faithful" to one's partner--usually defined by what one refrains from more than what practices it requires.)

Don't get me wrong: I think there's a whole lot more to being faithful (to God or to one's partner, among others) that not cheating or doubting. I just think we've weakened our understanding of the word.

So this year, I think we ought to talk about solidarity.

As in, God chooses solidarity with the world in becoming Emmanuel. And people like Mary and Joseph choose solidarity with one another and with God as they make choices and take actions that allow Christ to be born into the world.

My first real encounter with the idea of "solidarity" came from my dad's visit to Poland, back in the late 80's, when I was in Middle School. He brought me a souvenir shirt, emblazoned with the logo of Solidarity, the nonviolent, anti-communist labor movement led by Lech Walesa, who was then yet to be elected president in the Polish amazing elections of 1989. Solidarity was a political movement, asserting that workers deserved decent pay, access to basic resources, and freedom. The route it chose to persue these was through solidarity--honoring our belonging together.

It turns out that at least some of these ideas likely came through Christianity. Maybe it was the visit of Pope John Paul II to his Polish homeland. Maybe it was the theology of the many who believed in Christ, who taught that our acts of love and mercy to the "least of these" in our midst were acts of love and mercy toward God.

All I know is that Christianity seems to be all about solidarity--about standing together and seeing that each of our needs is all wrapped up with the needs of others. I think that's the whole point of God as Emmanuel--God is with us, standing beside and within each of us, giving us the courage and love and strength to live into God's kin-dom. To believe we can live in the world as God intends for us to live it in, now.

Let's gather in worship this week to celebrate God's solidarity with us, and to imagine how we might share it with a world in need.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Desert Blooms

The prophet Isaiah is painting more images for us this week, telling of dry lands that will blossom abundantly.

The imagery is rich in transformation: deserts bloom, the suffering heal, the fearful find courage. And all of this change comes in abundance. It's not just that the lame walk -- they leap like a deer. It's not just that the speechless talk -- they sing for joy. At the end of the passage, Isaiah promises that "sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

As we continue our Advent journey of contemplation and anticipation, where are the deserts in our lives? Where do we thirst? Where do we most hurt? What do we most fear? How would we like to experience this transformation in our own lives. What would it look like for the dry lands in our lives to bloom abundantly? What would need to happen in our hearts for us to sing with joy?

In our Gospel reading this week, the mother of Jesus sings for joy. This is Mary's song at the news that she is filled with God. Mary allowed herself to be filled with God and that fullness filled her with joy. Mary knew joy in abundance. We know, too, that she knew heartache and sorrow as we all do, but she knew the joy of fullness of faith. This is her song of celebration.

How can we open ourselves more to be filled with God's Spirit?

What is our song of joy?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


"The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea," says Isaiah this week.  Which means, as he explains it, that the poor and meek find justice, and that everyone (even the wild animals) figure out how to live together in peace.

I'm a bit caught on this idea of being "full of the knowledge of the Lord," and that meaning justice and peace, especially for the most vulnerable.  This isn't, I think, what we Christians most communicate in our culture today.  That is, we aren't always known for our love.  

Knowing God, at least as Isaiah describes it, seems to make us humble.  Or at least demand that we figure out how to live in harmony with others, so they're not afraid.  Our being full of Christmas joy requires sharing it with the fullness of all others.  (We might can't have a good Christmas party if it's not also, somehow good for the people not in the room.)

So, once again, as Christmas draws near, I hear the words of u2's 'Peace on Earth' echoing in my head: "We hear it every Christmastime, but hope and history won't rhyme, so what's it worth?  This 'Peace on Earth.'"

This year, as we walk through Advent, I'm challenging myself to look further than the 25th, to see what Christmas preparations I can make that will help build the kind of fullness of "knowledge of the Lord" that is justice and peace.