Readings: Isaiah 61:1-11, Luke 1:46-55, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28
Is this the message you hear at Christmas time? It seems to be the pervading “Merry Christmas” greeting.
I hear those words,
And I think, “Wow. That’s a lot to ask.”
Now I’m usually a fairly optimistic person in most circumstances, but there is a lot I worry about that gets in the way of rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances.
And I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
Just overhearing people talking in a crowded coffee shop or waiting room, there’s plenty of things going on that make always, without ceasing, and all circumstances sound like a far-fetched, idealistic demand.
For instance, when I’m not worried about avoiding the next cold going around, I’m wondering about how well I’ve prepared for Christmas. Did I get all the presents, the right ones? Will I get to see everyone at the holiday parties? And then when illness, cancer, or injuries beset loved ones…the worries increase.
And that’s all just the selfish worrying! That’s all about me and those closest to me.
How about God’s beloved people who are on the streets, ones without enough to eat or enough heat in their homes; or the kids who come to school and act out, because they need attention and love and don’t know how to find it—and parents who have, themselves, grown up with abuse or neglect and don’t have healthy base from which to offer love.
Then, not just people but creation—the planet we live on—which we abuse every day. Plastic and Styrofoam, these man-made contraptions that don’t decompose which we throw out, ending up in delicate ecosystems and trashing the lives of seas creatures, poisoning fish that we eat, contaminating water that we drink.
For me, and many others like me, the shallow, cheap Christmas message of happiness, celebration, joy, and presents (more, and more, and more presents), doesn’t speak to what’s actually happening in the world.
The planet cries out for mercy; the hungry, poor, and abused scream for good news; the brokenhearted and hurting call for healing and restoration.
All the while, our laws and policies continually favor the rich, the businesses, promote violence as protection, and seek vengeance for crimes. The most vulnerable are overlooked, and our deficits and debts are cited as justification for not caring for even our own.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” not in a way that rejects the realities of what’s happening in the world.
The good news is real. Jesus is real. He comes with good news for the oppressed; to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; he comes to comfort all who mourn.
He came, not as some extravagant emperor, but as a baby born on the road. He came as a refugee child fleeing from the grip of King Herod. He came as a teacher, healer, and prophet—one who was put to death for his proclamation of extravagant love for the poorest and most vulnerable. And he will come again—causing righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Until he does…
We, Christians are, the church is the body of Christ. And his is no couch potato body…
Where we transitioned into this advent season, Jesus said: “I was the hungry one you fed, I was the thirsty one to whom you gave a drink. I was the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the criminal you stayed with and listened to.”
Jesus is here. Jesus is coming. And you are a testifier to that truth; we are bearers of the anointed one’s light—his hands and his feet until he comes again. You have his presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. Together, as the body of Christ, we can make a positive difference in the world.
May Jesus’ followers give the world reason to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;”
not because of some empty hope, but because Jesus Christ is here, and He is coming again, soon.