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It’s Mine, And I Share It With You

Click here to read the bulletin. Readings included.

It amuses me sometimes when my kids really get into fighting over something at the house. I can pinpoint the exact moment in their epic struggle for justice when the tragic wail ascends to heaven over the unbearable tyranny that is being imposed upon them by their sibling. It’s usually over something electronic, like the computer or the television. Each of them is equally committed to their belief that the immutable laws of justice in the universe demand that they are the one who gets to claim ownership over the device in that moment. The outrage is so unbearable that the conflict sometimes comes to blows and an electronic device might go sailing across the room. And that’s usually when my wife or I decide that it’s time for a parent to intervene.

It reminds me of the times when my brother and I would get into similar battles as kids. It was the early 80s, so we didn’t have many electronics around the house, but kids never seem to have trouble finding things to squabble about. I remember one time as a five-year-old, in a fit of righteous indignation, I insisted that these toys were my toys, so I shouldn’t have to share them with my brother. And our quick-thinking mother came up with the perfect comeback: “No, they’re my toys, and I share them with you!”

I think sometimes that God wants to say the same thing to us grownups, when we bicker and fight over the things we think belong to us. People get so worked up about my house, my car, my money, my church, my country. I imagine God in those moments as the patient but stressed out mother, still in her bathrobe on a Saturday morning, shouting back her words of wisdom: “No, they’re mine, and I share them with you!”

The God we serve is a giving and forgiving God, but we humans, in our selfishness, often take that generosity for granted. We get all kinds of worked up over something that isn’t going right in our lives and quickly turn to shake our fist at the sky and shout, “Why, O God? Why?!!!” And when someone else, one of our brothers or sisters, comes along and asks something of us, we react as if some great injustice has been done to us. “Why should I have to give my spare change to that homeless person? This is my money; I worked for it!” And God says, “No, it’s my money, and I share it with you!”

We rarely stop to think about how much we’ve been given, and I don’t just mean material wealth. Think about sunlight. We remember from science class that stars shine by transforming matter into energy by way of nuclear fusion. I read a book recently that noted how our sun converts four million tons of its own matter into light energy every second. That light then travels 93 million miles to our planet, where it warms us in just the right amount to sustain life, and it does this for billions of years! Just think about that level of generosity and compare it to the paltry gesture of dropping a few coins into a hat for a fellow human being who has been standing out in that same hot sun all day.

We like to complain about the weather, how it’s always just a little too hot or a little too cold for our liking, but do we ever stop to think about the amazing and delicate balance that has kept life going and growing for all these millennia? Do we ever stop to give thanks for the wonder of it all? Or are we still too caught up in our own little tizzies about the next little thing that isn’t going quite right in our lives?

In today’s gospel, Jesus draws our attention to the great generosity of God that is constantly being poured out upon us, just as the sunlight is poured indiscriminately over the face of the earth. Jesus marvels at the way that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

And our God is so gracious and unassuming in this ministry, never waiting to be thanked before offering the gift. Like so many human parents, God’s hope is that we will one day realize how much we have been given and pay it back by paying it forward to others. Children often don’t appreciate how hard their parents work to provide for them. And the parents don’t ask for recognition. Our only hope is that our children will one day be parents themselves, and will work just as hard to provide the same kind of love and care for their children. Jesus shows us today that God hopes the same thing for us.

Jesus says, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven”.

It is a foregone conclusion that children tend to look like their parents. In a physical sense, they “bear the image” of the ones who made them. In the same way, each and every one of us is made “in the image and likeness” of our Father in heaven. Jesus asks us today to embrace that divine likeness in our own lives.

But something has to happen before we can begin that work in earnest. We need a Copernican Revolution of the soul.

Copernicus was a scientist in the middle ages who discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe. By careful observation, he figured out that our planet is traveling around the sun, not the other way around. This discovery sent shockwaves throughout the world. People’s whole conception of their lives was turned upside down. Church officials ranted and raved against Copernicus and his heretical ideas.

But history, as we know, proved Copernicus right. The earth is not the center of the universe. Ours is just one planet circling around a small star in a galaxy of billions of other stars, which is only one of billions of galaxies in the known universe. Copernicus’ idea caused a revolution in the scientific world, but it’s one that turned out to be true. And I thank God for Copernicus, because he has opened us up to discover so many more wonderful and useful things about ourselves and the world we inhabit.

In the same way, we humans today have once again fallen into the trap of believing that we are the center of the universe, while everything else simply revolves around us. In our sinfulness, we set ourselves up like little gods in life-or-death competition with all the other little gods around us. We battle each other for supremacy, screaming all the while, “It’s mine! It’s mine!”

But Jesus, our great Copernicus of the soul, comes alongside us to reveal the truth that makes us simultaneously smaller and bigger than we could have possibly imagined: We are not the center of the universe. We are not gods, but we bear the image of the God who says to us, “It’s mine, and I share it with you.” Jesus directs our attention to the bountiful generosity of God and invites us to participate in it, in our own small way.

Nowhere does Jesus embody this truth more fully than in his death and resurrection. In his passion, Jesus bore the sin of a world full of people who wanted to believe that they were the center of the universe. His Copernican Revolution of the soul was so dangerous to their agenda that they would stop at nothing to shut him up. And Jesus, ever the exasperated mother dealing with a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, willingly absorbed the full force of their hatred and violence. And he died there on that cross.

But then, in the greatest revolutionary moment in human history, he tore open the gates of hell and made death itself begin to work backwards. He rose from the grave, breathing peace to his betrayers and pronouncing, once and for all, that nothing “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:39)

Friends, this is the good news in which we stand today: We are not the center of the universe. We are the recipients of God’s amazing grace and Christ’s self-giving generosity that turns the world upside down. This grace is offered freely for you and for all by the One who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

“It’s mine,” God says, “and I share it with you.”

Jesus invites us this morning to join his Copernican Revolution of the soul and return the favor of this grace, not by paying it back, but by paying it forward: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven”.

And remember the words of the old gospel hymn:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.

For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind,
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord.

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Level Ground: A Universalist Preaches on Hell

Click here to read the service bulletin, including biblical readings

I heard a remarkable story a few years ago, about a series of events that took place on and around September 11, 2001. Unlike many of the stories that captured our attention that week, this one went largely unnoticed at the time, and took place far away from the cities of New York and Washington.

Many of us remember that all airplanes were grounded for several days after the attacks. This created quite a crisis for those who happened to be traveling. Many planes were diverted away from landing at American airports, and landed instead in the tiny town of Gander, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. Waiting on the Tarmac for some kind of resolution, many were stuck on their planes for almost 24 hours.

Gander has a population of about 10,000 people. The number of passengers from 39 flights stranded there on September 11 was 6,500, well over half the size of the town. No one would have blamed the people of Gander if they had said, “Listen, we’re very sorry, but our town is just not set up to receive this many people at once.” But that’s not what happened…

The people of Gander opened their hearts and homes to the stranded travelers. They came with food, supplies, and offers of housing. The life of their town was disrupted for the next five days as citizens accommodated the needy travelers. They went out of their way and over the top to care for strangers in need.

Toward the end of their time in Gander, one of the stranded passengers had an idea. He spoke to his fellow passengers on Delta Flight 15 and took up a sizable collection. This money went to establish a university scholarship for the people of Gander as thanks for the generosity shown during a time of crisis. To this day, that scholarship continues to provide assistance for people of Gander to attend college and university.

There is nothing that binds people quite like coming through a crisis together. I hear this frequently from combat veterans and emergency responders. I have experienced it myself among my colleagues in ordained ministry. We may not have much else in common, but we share this one experience, and that binds us together as one forever.

In today’s gospel, Jesus describes a similar crisis that binds people together and erases the lines we tend to draw between ourselves in daily life.

We continue to hear from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount this week. The section we read today is called ‘the Antitheses’ because Jesus is reinterpreting many of the commonly known laws of the Jewish Torah. He follows a certain formula, starting with, “You have heard that it was said…” and ending with, “But I say to you…”

At first glance, it appears that Jesus is overturning the old commandments, but in reality, he is deepening them (or “fulfilling” them, to use his words). Specifically, he addresses the commandments surrounding murder, adultery, divorce, and swearing oaths.

Jesus invites his followers to move beyond keeping the letter of the law to examining the spirit of the law. He does this because we humans have a strong tendency toward self-justification in morality. We like to set ourselves against one another in battles for superiority. Our spiritual life is no exception.

Examining my life according to the Ten Commandments, it seems at first that I am doing pretty okay (sort of). Sure, I haven’t always told the truth, rested when I needed to, or been grateful for what I have. If my parents were here today, they could give several examples of times when I did not honor my mother and father. But I can honestly say that I’ve never worshiped a pagan deity, robbed a bank, murdered another human being, or cheated on my spouse. So, at first glance, I’m scoring about fifty or sixty percent on God’s ‘Top Ten List’ of commandments. But when I listen to Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel, my score drops dramatically.

I have never killed anyone, but I have harbored hatred and bitterness in my heart toward my fellow human beings from time to time. I have never committed outright adultery, but I have had a wandering eye and nursed unhealthy fantasies that would destroy my family, were I to act on them. I have never renounced the worship of God, but I have pledged my allegiance to things that are not God and allowed other concerns to take precedence over my baptismal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The same could be said by any of us, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves.

What this means is that none of us has the right to set ourselves up as morally superior to another person. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)

An honest consideration of the spirit of the law reveals that everyone stands on level ground at the foot of the cross. As sinners, saved by grace, we simply have no time to stand around in judgment over one another. We are all going through this crisis together.

So, what then is this crisis that we find ourselves in?

Jesus tells us repeatedly in this passage: it is hell.

Jesus talks about the evil one and the fire of hell no less than four times in this short passage.

Now, many of you may find it odd that I bring this particular detail up. Many of you have heard me say, on numerous occasions, that I tend to lean toward the theology of universalism, meaning that I believe God will save all people in time. For me, the belief in universal salvation is not born out of political correctness, liberal idealism, or a desire to avoid the harsher parts of the Bible I don’t like. I have several sound biblical and philosophical reasons for believing this, mostly relating to the character of God. However, I recognize that not all Christians agree with me. In the history of the Church, faithful Christians have devised many different ideas and interpretations about who and how many people will be saved for eternity. In the end, the decision about that will be made by the only one who is qualified: God, who judges the world with absolute fairness and absolute mercy. Hence, it is not for human beings to set limits on how far the redemption won for us in Jesus Christ can extend.

I am a universalist, but that does not mean that I can simply ignore Christ’s teaching about the very real danger of sin and hell.

When Jesus talks about hell in today’s passage, the word he uses is Gehenna. This is a reference to a real, physical place: the Valley of Hinnom on the southwest side of Jerusalem. We read in 2 Chronicles that this is a place that ancient Israelites used for human sacrifice to the Canaanite god Moloch in Old Testament times. The descendants of these Israelites were horrified by what their ancestors had done there. They kept the site from being used for any other purpose. Like the Auschwitz concentration camp, where Nazis sent countless Jews to their death, Gehenna stood as a perpetual reminder to history of what must never be allowed to happen again. By Jesus’ day, it had become the city dump of Jerusalem, where people would bring their trash to be burned. The sin of Israel had caused the Valley of Hinnom to become a stinking, perpetually burning pile of garbage that was good for nothing else. Our English translations have rendered his word Gehenna as hell.

I see hell, not as something that God will do to us in the afterlife, but as something that we do to ourselves in this life. I have sat at the bedside of addicts going through the shivers of withdrawal, and it is hell. I have spoken with parents who have seen their children gunned down in front of them by police, and it is hell. I have been to the overcrowded orphanages of Romania, and it is hell. I have listened to LGBTQ youth left homeless by self-righteous parents and pastors, and it is hell.

Jesus directs our attention to Gehenna as a warning about the very real and observable consequences of sin. If we occupy our lives with the relentless pursuit of property, pleasure, and power, we put ourselves in danger of becoming something disgusting and worthless. We develop ingrown souls that don’t care about being part of God’s plan for the world. If I were to translate Jesus’ warning in modern terms, I would say that those who despise and degrade their fellow creatures are in danger of “the ovens of Auschwitz.” Even as a universalist, I would say to you this morning that hell is real and the dangers of sin are real. This is the common crisis in which we all find ourselves as human beings on planet Earth.

But God has not abandoned us in this crisis. Even though we have turned away from God, God has never turned away from us. In Jesus Christ, the Word of God took on flesh and dwelled among us. He broke bread with outcasts and sinners. He healed the sick, opened blind eyes, and raised the dead. He challenged the status quo and called the people to move beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law.

When we humans, in our selfishness, could bear no longer to hear this message of grace and truth, we tried to silence Jesus by nailing him to the cross. But even then, after all hope was lost, the power of love overcame the love of power: God raised Jesus from the grave, in the words of an ancient Orthodox hymn, “Trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb, bestowing life.”

This risen Jesus invites us now to respond in faith by coming to his table, to share his broken body and shed blood in the Eucharist, to become one with him in body and spirit, and one with each other in the common loaf and cup. In this Sacrament, we receive Christ into ourselves and look forward to the day when hell will be conquered and emptied forever, our sins and sadnesses will cease, and all people will be made one in Christ.

Like those stranded travelers on September 11, we are bound together by the common crisis we have endured, and look forward in hope to the common destiny that awaits us in Jesus.

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Becoming What You Already Are

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Have you ever looked in the mirror and been unhappy with what you see?

Most of us have, at some point or other. We’re unhappy with the way we look, or the clothes we wear, or the house we live in, or the life we’re living.

Advertising executives make a fortune by promoting and manipulating that impulse within us. If only we buy this product, they say, our unhappiness and self-doubt will simply fade away. With their help, they say, we can be as happy and beautiful as the people we see in TV commercials.

It’s all lies, of course. We all know that advertisers are really just trying to get us to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need in order to impress people we don’t like.

But here’s the thing: in order to effectively sell the lie, advertisers are preying upon a very real fear and very real desire that exist within each of us. The fear is that there is something wrong or missing inside of us, something that would make us profoundly happy, if only we had possession of it. The desire is the drive to be something other than who we are.

Want to look young and attractive forever? Buy this cream! Want to be an adventurous tough guy? Smoke the same cigarettes as the Marlboro man!

Religious advertisers have gotten in on this action too. Want to be free of that gnawing sense of guilt and loneliness? Join this church! Read this book! Attend this conference!

What all of the above have in common, from cigarettes to church conferences, is the claim to cure our sense of inner emptiness by way of some outside product. They claim that they can make us into something other than what we are. And it’s all a lie.

Christ, on the other hand, does the opposite. He offers us no quick-fix product or easy 3-step solution to our insecurities. On the contrary, Christ saves us by bringing us more deeply into who we already are.

In today’s gospel, Christ uses two images to describe this process: salt and light.

He begins by telling his followers, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt, as we know, is a seasoning for food. We don’t typically eat it by itself; we put it on other things. It adds flavor. But what would happen if salt somehow lost its taste? Jesus tells us, “It is no longer good for anything”.

The second thing Christ tells his followers is, “You are the light of the world.” Light adds visibility to a dark room. If we hide it under a basket, we’ve lost the point of having light altogether. It belongs out in the open.

The common ground between salt and light is that they both add something to something else, whether it’s flavor to a meal or visibility to a room. Their presence deepens the experience of life. And they do this, not by becoming something else, but by being precisely what they are. Salt tastes salty by nature; light is bright by nature.

In the same way, Christ’s saving work in our lives is a process by which we gradually discover, embrace, and embody the image of God within us. The Christian saints of the East call this process ‘theosis’ or ‘divinization’.

According to Eastern Orthodox theologians, the ‘Image of God’ is who we really are inside. It is that part of our deepest selves that reflects something unique about God to the world. We humans can tarnish or cover this image by our sin, but we can never fully erase it.

The redemption won for us in Christ removes the dross of our sin, restores the flavor of our saltiness, and removes the basket from over our flame so that our inner light can be more clearly seen by the world. And this inner light is not our own, but only a reflection of God’s light, just as moonlight is a reflection of sunlight.

This is how Christ’s plan of salvation differs from that of advertising executives and Pharisees. The Pharisees were a religious group who promoted the product of biblical law as a way to change people into something other than what they are. The Pharisees said, “Come to us and follow our program, and you will be acceptable to God.”

They had a very public reputation for being very pious and righteous, so it must have been very disconcerting when Jesus said to his followers, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Who was more righteous than a Pharisee? Jesus might as well have said, “You have to be more Catholic than the Pope” or “climb higher than Mount Everest” to enter the kingdom of heaven. Such an order would have seemed hopeless to the average person.

And I think that’s exactly the point that Jesus was trying to get across. It is hopeless. You can’t get there from here. If you’re trying to win your way into God’s good graces by becoming something other than what you already are, the battle is already over and you’ve lost.

Ironically, the path to holiness leads, not farther away from sin, but deeper into it. We exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees by admitting that we can never live up to it. We ascend by descending. The first step toward finding a solution is facing the problem. The fulfillment of the law begins with our failure to uphold it.

This way of thinking runs counter to the logic of our consumer culture, which brainwashes us to run away and hide from our brokenness, fearing that we could never be loved if others knew what we really are.

The promise of Christ, the “double-dog-dare” of grace, is that there is indeed a light within you. A light that was placed there by God and shaped to reflect God’s own light in a way that is utterly unique in the world. This light is our true beauty, and we will not find it by running away from what we are. We find it by grace, which gives us the faith to remove the baskets from over our candles and “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven.”

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This Little Light of Mine

Click here to read the service bulletin, including biblical texts.

In the liturgical season between Epiphany and Lent, one of the major themes is Light. Christ is revealed as the Light of the World.

Now, here’s the funny thing about light: you can’t see it. You only know it’s there because it allows you to see everything else when it’s around. Even if you look at a light bulb, you’re not really seeing light; you’re seeing little strips of metal that have been heated up by electricity. The heating process causes the metal strips to emit light into the room. You can see the strips glowing, but that’s not light itself, just the effect.

Today’s readings introduce us to the idea of Christ as Light. Isaiah says it first and Matthew quotes him later:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”

The psalmist takes up the theme as well:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”

What does it mean to follow Christ the Light when we cannot see light itself?

My working theory is that we can experience the presence of Christ in the effect Christ has on the lives of people around him.

In today’s gospel, Christ encounters several people who will become his first disciples. We could say that he ‘illumines’ or even ‘enlightens’ them with his presence.

Let’s look at the text:

Where does Jesus first encounter Simon, Andrew, James, and John? On a beach.

And what are they doing as he walks up? Simon and Andrew are “casting a net into the sea.” James and John are “mending their nets.”

This starts off as a rather boring scene. These four people are only going about their daily routine. Christ meets them in the midst of everyday life.

This is important because it gives us a hint about where, when, and how we can expect to encounter Christ in our lives as well: in the mundane, boring, everyday stuff.

If they were construction workers, he would have met them on a job site. If they were doctors, he would be sitting in the waiting room. If they were students, he would be sitting next to them in class. If they were dialysis patients, he would be hooked up to the machine next to them. Wherever we happen to find ourselves is the place where Christ meets us.

This runs counter to the idea that one can only have spiritual experiences in spiritual places, or that one can only meet God in godly places.

If they had been drug dealers, Christ would have met them on the corner where they sell their dope. If they had been strippers, Christ would have met them at the club.

Religious people tend to have a hard time with this reality. We think that Christ only shows up when someone has sufficiently prepared themselves for the encounter, but Scripture plainly and repeatedly shows us that Jesus is not interested in such distinctions. Christ is everywhere. The only thing spirituality does is prepare us to see him whenever and wherever he meets us. In this case, it was on a beach with a bunch of uneducated, working-class fishermen.

The next thing Jesus does is even more interesting: he approaches Simon and Andrew and says:

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

He doesn’t say, “I will make you stop fishing.” Nor does he say, “What are you doing, wasting your time with this stuff?” He begins by affirming what they already know.

Just like light, Christ does not change the essential nature of the ones he shines upon. They don’t cease to be themselves. They are fishermen now, and so they will remain in God’s plan for their life.

Many people come to the Church because they want to be (or pretend to be) something other than what they are. But Christ doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t take fishermen and make them into saints; he makes them into saintly fishermen.

The light shines on us as we are, but it also helps us to see what we are more clearly. If I wake up before dawn, I can stumble around the room, looking for my clothes. Or I can turn on the light to look for them. Turning on the light doesn’t change the location of my clothes, it just lets me see where they already are.

When Christ the Light shines more brightly in our lives, we remain ourselves, but we come to see ourselves more clearly. Jesus saw something in Simon and Andrew that they had not yet seen in themselves. They were meant for bigger things than what they were already doing. Jesus helped them to see the deeper meaning of their lives and the calling that God had in store for them. They would remain fishermen, but they would be “fishing for people,” according to Jesus.

This is how Christ the Light shines in our lives today. We come to church, read the Bible, receive the sacraments, and discover that we are changing from the inside out. We do not cease to be who we have always been, but the deeper nature of our lives is revealed. We are like the elements of the Eucharist, which remain bread and wine in a physical sense, but are transformed spiritually into the Body and Blood of Christ.

I once heard a story about a woman who worked at a post office. When a new acquaintance asked her what she did for a living, she wisely responded, “I am a servant of the living God, cleverly disguised as a postal worker.”

When we look at ourselves in the mirror, or look at our lives, we see the disguise we have built for ourselves (or the disguise that was given to us by society). We see race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, education, employment, or criminal record. We come to falsely identify ourselves with these things because they are obvious and visible.

But the real truth of our lives lies beneath the surface of those accidental qualities. None of them fully captures the essence of who we really are. When Christ the Light shines upon us, our true selves are revealed. We, and others, begin to see more clearly the divine image we bear. Christ met fishermen and revealed the apostles in each of them.

Christ sees you and draws out the saint or mystic that lives just beneath the surface of your life. Maybe you just didn’t see it clearly before now. But that’s okay, because the lights have been turned on over you and the real you can now be seen and loved for who you really are.

So, go out into the world today as your true self, deepened and revealed by the light of Christ. With that light as your guide, see in yourself and others the beauty and dignity of Christ, whose image you bear. Be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today, and “let your light shine before all people, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.”

By Unknown - http://fos-kastoria.blogspot.bg/2015_01_01_archive.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45766613

A God’s-Eye View

Click here to read the service bulletin, including biblical texts.

Introduction

Think about a time when you felt misjudged or misunderstood. How did it feel? Who was involved? What was it that you wanted them to realize about you? What do you wish you had said to make that person understand?

Most of us have memories like that. The pain of the memory can sometimes cause us to seethe with anger at the injustice, even years after the fact.

Less common and less visceral are memories of times when we have discovered ourselves to be the ones misjudging others. Psychologists have discovered a reason for this: they call it “the fundamental attribution error.” What it means is that people tend to name external circumstances as the cause of their own faults, while simultaneously blaming other peoples’ faults on defects of character.

Here’s an example: You are at a stoplight and cut across a lane of traffic to turn right in order to not be late for work, cutting another driver off in the process. You think to yourself, “Sorry about that, but I can’t be late for work!” Now, if you’re the driver in the other car, and you see this happen in front of you, and are forced to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident, you think, “What a jerk! They must not know how to drive!” That’s the fundamental attribution error in action. The first driver chalks the mistake up to circumstances, while the second driver chalks it up to the other person’s character.

People do this. In the story of our own lives, we tend to cast ourselves in the role of the hero or the victim, almost never as the bad guy. The role of villain is given to others. The funny thing is that the “bad guys” in each of our stories also think of themselves as the “good guys,” while we ourselves play the role of the villain in their stories.

The world loves to divide people into categories: us and them, good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. We pass judgment on one another and react, rather than respond, when circumstances turn inconvenient. In time, we learn how to impose those categories on whole groups of people: black and white, straight and gay, men and women, American and Russian, Republican and Democrat. It’s as though each of us is in the process of writing our own superhero comic book, fighting like mad to ensure that the good guys win in the end.

The problem is that, when we do this, we aren’t relating to each other as whole people, each with their own complex challenges of circumstance and character. Life is complicated. People are complicated. And at the end of the day, there are no good guys or bad guys, just people.

Exegesis

In today’s gospel, we get to see an example of a time when one person was able to look at another and see the truth beneath the surface of that person.

Last week, we looked at the relationship between Jesus and St. John the Baptist as a door that opens us up to the relational nature of reality in the Trinity. Today, we are going to look at that same relationship from the opposite direction: we are going to see how one’s relationship with the Triune God opens a door for us to see our relationships with our neighbors differently.

When St. John the Baptist looked at Jesus, he saw past the categories that other people used to put on him. John saw Jesus for who he truly is: the Son of God and the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus was no stranger to being categorized by other people. We read about this time and again in the gospels. His hometown neighbors listened to his first sermon and couldn’t get past the mental categories in which they had placed him, as the son of Joseph the carpenter. The clergy and theologians couldn’t get past the fact that Jesus sounded like a heretic to them, calling into question centuries of religious tradition. The political authorities had him pegged as a dangerous radical. Even his own family came to believe that Jesus had lost his mind. All of these made their judgments about Jesus and tucked him away in their mental categories as a way of dismissing him and his message. But John the Baptist doesn’t do that. John sees Jesus with a different set of eyes.

The gospel calls John a “prophet”, who was “sent from God” as “a witness to the light.” Whatever else this may mean, we can at least say that it means this: John the Baptist saw the world at large, and Jesus specifically, from a spiritually-centered point-of-view. He saw Jesus clearly, with spiritual eyes.

John was able to this, most basically, because of the gifts and calling that God had placed on his life. God wanted John to see Jesus in this way. But, along with that, I tend to believe that John was able to sharpen and hone this gift of God by his spiritual practices.

We know that John lived simply, out in the desert. He had few possessions and sustained himself, as the text of the Bible tells us, on “locusts and wild honey.” As far as we can tell, he was unmarried. He was given to prayer and the preaching spiritual renewal in baptism. In many ways, his life resembles that of an Old Testament Nazirite, a holy person dedicated to God and separated from the world. Traditionally, they refrained from alcohol, haircuts, and funerals. Other famous Nazirites from the Old Testament include the prophet Samuel and the hero Samson.

Although John is not specifically named as a Nazirite, his life resembles that of one, being wholly dedicated to the service of God. In modern terms, we might think of him like a hermit or monk.

John’s spiritual practices give him the ability to see the world differently from the way most people see it, and when Jesus arrives on the scene, John is ready to see him differently too. Where some saw just another crazy person or heretic, John saw Jesus as the Son of God, upon whom the Holy Spirit had descended, and the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. John saw Jesus’ true self, beyond the categories imposed on him by the world.

Application

I don’t think this ability is unique to St. John the Baptist himself.

First of all, I think we get a glimpse, in John’s vision, of the way God sees each and every one of us. When we are misunderstood or misjudged, there is another who sees and loves us as we truly are. God looks at us and sees past the shell of worldly categories to the treasure beneath the surface of our lives. That treasure is there in your life because God wants it to be there and placed it there himself. Even better, God wants us to see that treasure too, so that we can share it with others. Whenever our dignity is maligned by our neighbors (or even ourselves), God is working quietly behind the scenes to bring prophets like John into our lives who will see and draw out the divine treasure that is in us.

Second, I believe that John’s gift of spiritual insight is available to all of us, if we choose to make use of it. Like John, we can make use of spiritual practices to sharpen and focus the way we look at the world and people around us. Studying the Word and celebrating the Sacraments keep us connected to the core beliefs and values that tell us there is inherent dignity in every human life, no matter what categories people may try to impose on it. We read in the Bible that our neighbors are reflections of God’s image, members of the Body of Christ, and living stones in the temple of the Holy Spirit. In the Sacraments, we all pass through the waters of Baptism and partake of the bread and cup of the Eucharist as members of the one Body of Christ. We are part of each other, precisely because we are part of Christ. This is how St. Paul is able to say, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor. 12:21)

In prayer and meditation, we connect the joys and concerns of daily living to our divine life in God. Even secular psychologists have come to admit in recent years that the practice of meditation is good for human relationships. When we meditate, we lower our stress levels and become better able to respond to crisis from a place of peace, rather than react out of anger. Meditation helps us develop empathy and detachment, so that we can see past the hard categories we impose on each other. Spiritually centered people don’t see “good guys” and “bad guys,” but instead just see “people.” They don’t think in terms of “us” and “them,” but think instead of “We.”

God sees each of us as beloved sons and daughters. People learning to see the world from God’s point-of-view begin to see their neighbors in that same way.

That’s how John saw Jesus. That’s how God sees us. My prayer this morning is that we too will learn, day by day, by Word and Sacrament, by prayer and meditation, how to see each other in this way. When we do, we will be seeing one another with the eyes of God.

By Unknown - http://www.svetigora.com/node/906, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3752815

God is a Relationship

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Whatever else we want to say about God, we can at least say this:

God is all about relationships.

We can see that in the natural universe:

The relationship between our planet and our star is so finely tuned. If the earth were just a little closer to or farther out from the sun, or if it was just tilted a little more on its axis, life as we know it would be impossible.

The biosphere is so delicately balanced, the extinction of just a few species from the food chain can upset an entire ecosystem. A pastor friend tells me that, if bees continue to disappear (as they have been doing), we humans have only two years of life left.

We humans can share a special relationship with each other, when two people can come together in a special, intimate way that actually creates life.

We can see that God is all about relationships by looking at our Scriptures as well.

We can see it in today’s gospel: in the relationship between Christ and St. John the Baptist.

In the very first sentence of this reading, we see that Christ takes the initiative:

“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan”

And then the text says that John, after a brief conversation, gives his consent. This is very important because real relationships can only exist where consent is freely offered between two parties.

After that, the baptism takes place and something amazing happens:

“just as [Jesus] came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him”

I take this to mean that Christ could see into eternity, into the heart of everything; he could see how it all hangs together. And in that vision, Jesus sees the Spirit descend upon him like a dove and hears a voice say, “This is my Son, the beloved”.

Note the three figures in this vision: First, there is Jesus, the Son of God. Then there is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. Finally, there is the voice (presumably God the Father), saying, “This is my Son”. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is the first place in Scripture where the Holy Trinity appears.

For Christians, the Trinity is our core concept of God. The word itself never appears in Scripture (that was worked out a few centuries later by the Church Fathers and Mothers), but here is where we see the three persons together for the first time. We believe in one God who is three Persons. Not three Gods, not one God known in three ways, but one God in three Persons. The relationship between John and Christ actually opens a window, through which we can see the relational, Triune nature of God.

I know this sounds rather abstract, but let me bring it down to earth: God is a relationship. As St. John the Beloved put it in his first epistle, “God is love”. Relationships matter to God because God is a relationship. God is love itself.

This is good news for us in this world, where our relationships are in such trouble. Our broken relationships, at the personal and political levels, are often characterized by exploitation, manipulation, oppression, poverty, and violence.

There is nothing new about this. We can see it plainly on the news and in many of our families. It didn’t begin with Twitter, or the internet, or television, or the 1960s, or the sexual revolution. It began all the way back at the beginning, when our relational God created us to be in relationship with God and each other. But we withheld our consent. We broke relationship with God, and soon our relationships with each other began to break down as well.

But God never broke relationship with us. God came among us in the person of Jesus Christ to redeem the world and restore us to right relationship with God and each other.

That is why the Church today, as Christ’s Body on earth, calls Christians to tend to our relationships with family, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies. We are called to live the truth that relationships matter because God is a relationship.

God is love. This is why Jesus sums up all the commandments of the Bible in a single word: Love. Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself. Likewise, St. Paul writes, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).

St. John again:

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16)

In other words, where there is love, there is God.

Whenever we swallow our pride and say “I’m sorry” to the spouse we’ve been fighting with, that is an act of worship to God. Whenever we are at a restaurant, and the waiter comes by with a refill, and we look up to meet that person’s eyes and say “thank you”, that is an act of worship. Whenever we march for justice and listen to the voices of the poor and oppressed, that is an act of worship.

Whenever we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, or visit the sick and incarcerated, we are not just serving our neighbors, but Christ himself. Christ was very explicit about this:

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

God is a relationship, therefore relationships matter. God is love, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. This is the truth that Christ and St. John the Baptist are driving home to us, through their relationship, in today’s gospel.

May we be the Christians who honor our relationship with God by honoring our relationships with each other in the world.

By unknown artist - qAEfNp0-DUNgTg at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23718282

Outsmarted by Babies and Dreams

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I was leading a Bible study earlier this week where one of the participants asked why God doesn’t just part the heavens and come down, saying, “Hey everybody, I’m here! This is absolute proof, so you’d better believe in me!”

I thought this was a great question. Why doesn’t God do that? It would certainly make some things easier. We wouldn’t have to wrestle so much with our faith. When refuted, we could simply point back to the absolute proof and blow our opponents’ arguments out of the water. Everything would become totally clear.

But I also wonder: What would be the cost of such certainty? We already know we live in a world where the strong dominate the weak, where history is written by the winners, and where winners often win by violence and manipulation. We lament this sad state of affairs, but fail to imagine any viable alternative.

Could things ever be any different?

At least one person has imagined so.

The poet in our psalm this morning spends his/her time imagining a different kind of ruler from the ones who tend to seize power on the global scene. The psalmist dreams instead of a ruler who governs by the power of gentleness and divine justice, rooted in the natural ebb and flow of creation itself. This dream is voiced as a prayer for the king:

“May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.”

That is a very gentle, life-giving image. It makes me think of sitting on my back porch in the spring time, watching the rain fall and the flowers beginning to sprout up after a long winter. Could that be a model for sound government?

The psalmist thinks so:

“May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.”

That might sound like a utopian pipe-dream, bound to end in disappointment, but the psalmist sees a different kind of outcome:

“May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.”

In a world governed by the power of violence, this dream might seem unattainable, but we Christians, who accept these words as sacred Scripture, are duty-bound to take them seriously as part of God’s Word. In God’s universe, it is right that makes might, not the other way around. If we really believed otherwise, why would we bother coming to church on Sunday?

This is no utopian pipe-dream or abstract principle for us Christians. We believe that this idea took on flesh and came to fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. St. Paul refers to this as “the mystery of Christ” in today’s epistle:

“In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel… so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

In Paul’s vision, God wins the victory, not by dominating or destroying Gentile enemies, but by including them as friends in the redemption that Christ won for the world. This, in Paul’s mind, subverts the dominant paradigm of the powers-that-be.

The way of God’s kingdom stands in stark contrast to the powers of the world, like King Herod, who we read about in today’s gospel.

Herod vies for power, using all the means at his disposal. When he perceives a threat to his power, he gathers the scholars and clergy as part of his military and political intelligence program. He manipulates people with lies and fake displays of piety. When, at last, he is outsmarted by babies and dreams, he unleashes the full force of the military in a campaign deliberately designed to destroy innocent lives in the interest of maintaining his position.

The good news is that his plan fails miserably. God intervenes through unorthodox means, using pagan philosophers to subvert the diabolical schemes of this tyrant. Jesus, the one child Herod sought to kill, escapes unharmed and grows up to become the greatest personality in human history, not to mention the central figure in God’s plan to redeem the world.

The good news for us in this is that the ancient dreams of poets and prophets are coming true. There is a deeper justice in the universe that trumps the demonic schemes of powerful people. “Survival of the fittest” and “might makes right” do not have the last word in the order of life. By contrast, God seems to be saying to us in these texts that history is written by the losers, the weak ones, and the vulnerable, because history’s last word is written by the God who chose to become vulnerable in the infant Christ.

Sure, God could have parted the heavens and come down with irrefutable evidence to demand faith and obedience from the human race, but this would have been at odds with God’s actual plan for the world. In point of fact, God did come to earth, not as a ruler, but as a baby. God does not force the divine will upon us from without, like any other human tyrant, but influences us from within, respecting our freedom and inviting us to cooperate with the way of gentleness and vulnerability.

St. Teresa of Calcutta famously taught us that “Not everyone can do great things, but everyone can do small things with great love.” This is the way of God’s will in the world. It is the way that Christ invites us to follow.

The power of Jesus resides, not in inflicting pain, but in offering healing; not in pronouncing judgment, but in forgiveness; not in threatening deprivation, but in feeding hungry people with abundance; not in dealing death, but by rising to new life from the grave.

King Herod was not the last ruler who felt his power being threatened by Jesus. At the end of his life, Jesus stood before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who seemed to succeed where Herod had failed. He handed Jesus over to be tortured and crucified for crimes he did not commit.

They thought Jesus was a terrorist, plotting to overthrow the Roman government. Little did they know, Jesus’ real goal was far more dangerous: he was (and still is) plotting the overthrow of the entire world system of power based on endless cycles of violence.

Jesus brought those cycles to an end in himself by absorbing the violence of this world without retaliating. He allowed himself to bear the weight of our sin and be dragged into hell. But then, on the third day, he demonstrated the gentle power of God by tearing open the gates of hell and emerging victorious from the tomb. He undid the power of violence by showing it to be futile in the end.

We Christians are invited to share in this victory by walking in this world as Jesus walked. St. Paul tells us, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). We are the members of Christ’s body, his hands and feet on earth today.

In times such as these, the greatest temptation is for Christians to give in to the demonic spirits of despair and cynicism. We think that violence of word or sword is the only way to guarantee peace and justice in life. We “study war” in our political and personal lives. We mistakenly come to believe that the only way to get ahead is by stepping on the backs of our neighbors and enemies.

Friends, I would humbly suggest to you today that there is another way. It is the way of gentleness and forgiveness, the way Jesus and the cross. While it is true that this way is likely to lead to crucifixion and death, it is also true that it leads even further into resurrection and the eternal life abundant that Christ promises for all who trust in him and walk in his ways.

By Anonimous - photo shoot by user Shakko (fev.2008), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3576194

Christmas Victor

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As we gather here this morning to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation in Word and Sacrament, we are also nearing the end of 2016. And there are many among who say, “Good riddance!”

It is only too easy for those of us who follow current events to hang our heads in despair at the state of things in the world. We hear of “wars and rumors of wars” at home and abroad. Our hearts break at the plight of refugees crossing our borders, break again as members of the powerful elite use these families as scapegoats for their politics of fear, and then break yet again as an act of terrorism in Berlin seems to lend momentary credibility to the argument that compassion is foolish.

Looking at the world on this Christmas morning, it appears that the cosmic forces of darkness and chaos are winning. We few who gather in church to tell stories, sing songs, and break bread appear to be the most pitiful of fools. Given the facts at hand, it is only understandable if we find ourselves asking the questions: Are just “whistling in the dark” after all? Are we really alone in a universe that came about as a random accident? Is the faith we proclaim nothing more than a charming tale we tell ourselves in order to sleep easier at night?

The modern world would answer “Yes” to all of the above. It would add: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there; you’ve got to look out for number one; money talks; might makes right.” The world says that the only truth is facts, and the facts say that we are on our own. I say the world is lying.

The Church tells a very different story in today’s gospel. We say:

“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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

What we mean by this is that the world belongs to God, who made it.

Christians believe in one God as Trinity: Three persons in relationship (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). For us, God is a relationship. Based on this, we understand the universe to be a network of relationships (galaxies, solar systems, ecosystems, nations, and families) existing within the larger relationship of the Trinity, as a baby grows in her mother’s womb.

But here’s the thing about relationships between persons: they have to be freely chosen. And we humans chose to break relationship with God our creator.

John’s gospel says it like this:

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”

Once we had broken relationship with God, our relationships with each other began to deteriorate as well. In seeking to become masters of the universe, we became slaves in bondage to each other, to corrupt systems, our own desires, and the powers of darkness and chaos beyond our control.

The good news is that our Creator was not content to leave us in this sad state of affairs. Even though we had broken relationship with God, God never broke relationship with us. God came to live among us in the person of Jesus Christ. John says:

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

As the only-begotten Son of God the Father, Jesus is the fullest expression of the divine image in a human face. Living among us, Jesus loved us: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, forgiving sinners, welcoming strangers, and raising the dead.

But we sinful humans could not stand to look at such holiness. Through the powers of religion and politics, we betrayed, denied, mocked, rejected, tortured, and killed the Son of God by crucifixion: anything just to shut him up and make him go away.

But God wasn’t having any of that nonsense. Like the tired mother of a toddler throwing a temper-tantrum, God rejected our rejection, raising Jesus from the dead and proving, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than the power of death itself.

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the door has been opened for us to freely re-enter a harmonious relationship with the Triune God and each other. John says it like this:

“to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the exclamation point at the end of a sentence that began with the incarnation. Christmas marks the beginning of a revolution that will never end until the entire universe is restored to right relationship with God.

The Church, far from an institution of civil religion that upholds the societal status quo, is an underground movement that preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ as an alternative orthodoxy to the lies of this world system.

We are unashamed to speak the truth that the emperor wears no clothes. We are unafraid to expose the dark powers:

  • of tyranny, oppression, injustice, stigma, exploitation, violence;
  • of racism, sexism, ableism, classism;
  • of xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia;
  • and every other -phobia and –ism that plagues the human heart.

We are not afraid to name these lies and exorcise these demons from our midst.

The Church of Jesus Christ is a revolutionary movement:

  • The Bible is our manifesto, the Sacraments are our weapons of peace, and the Cross is our only flag.
  • Our only aim is the final reconciliation of the entire universe with the justice and mercy of God.
  • The resurrection is our decisive victory, and the incarnation is our beachhead.

For this reason, let the dark powers of this broken world tremble with fear when they hear us utter the words, “Merry Christmas!”

By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Carpenter, Interrupted

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Introduction

They say, “If you want to give God a good laugh, tell him your plans.”

I’ve been looking around this week for the original source of that quote. I can’t find a definitive answer. Some say it was from a comedian like Woody Allen or Lily Tomlin. Others chalk it up to an old Yiddish proverb: “We plan; God laughs.”

Personally, I like to imagine that it comes from St. Joseph the Worker, husband to the Blessed Virgin Mary and guardian of the child Jesus. Even if he did not utter these exact words himself, I think he would certainly smile and nod his head at their meaning. He knows, better than most, what it means to have one’s plans interrupted by God.

Exegesis

Today’s gospel is all about being interrupted.

It opens with Mary and Joe, a nice Jewish couple about to begin their life together as husband and wife. Then, all of a sudden, their plans are interrupted with the news that Mary was going to have a baby.

This was a big deal. Not only is having a first child a huge moment for any couple, but this situation was complicated by the fact that Mary and Joe were not yet officially married. Even worse, Joe was certain that he was not the father.

This was heartbreaking news. All of his plans for the future were suddenly thrown up into the air. In most cultures, a scenario like this would almost certainly be the subject of town gossip, but in first century Palestine, it was also a death sentence. Joseph could legally have Mary tried and executed, but he opts for a more gentle approach instead. He decides to resolve the matter quietly by breaking off the engagement and moving on with his life. All in all, it was the honorable thing to do for a man both fair and kind in the midst of a crisis.

That’s when God interrupts Joe’s story.

As Matthew tells it, an angel visited him in a dream, telling him not to be afraid because everything was happening as part of God’s plan. Joe, remarkably, listens to this dream and the wedding is still on, despite the public ridicule he would doubtless receive from friends and relations.

It takes a special kind of faith to be that open to God’s interruption in one’s life. We humans are creatures of routine and ritual. We like things done the same way every time. When things don’t go according to plan, we have a tendency to get frustrated. We don’t like being interrupted.

This tendency of ours is especially apparent when it comes to matters of faith and morality. We want to believe that God is unchanging. We like the comfort of knowing that what’s right is right and what’s true is true, for all time and forever. We depend on our religious institutions to always stay the same, meeting in the same place, singing the same songs, and telling the same stories, from cradle to grave, and continuing long after we are gone.

So, what are we to do then with stories like this one, when God interrupts, not only one family’s personal expectations, but also their foundational sense of right and wrong? Why would God, in bringing Christ the Son into the world, expose the Holy Family to danger and disgrace, and even violate the boundaries established by divine law in the Torah?

In that sense, our familiar Christmas story is profoundly disturbing. But in another sense, it is deeply comforting for all of us whose lives rarely go according to plan and often fail to live up to our most deeply held values.

The first thing this story tells us is that God is able to work with people whose lives are less than perfect.

The second (and more important) lesson this story tells us is that sometimes those imperfections and interruptions are the very things that God can use to bring good into the world. Sometimes, the interruption is the main point with God.

Whether it’s an unexpected pregnancy, a medical diagnosis, a lost job, a broken relationship, a personal failure, a missed opportunity, or any other unfortunate event, all of it is material that God is using to bring forth new life and freedom into the world.

Conclusion

That was the story for Mary and Joe and their unexpected pregnancy. The miracle born of their less-than-perfect circumstance was no less than Jesus Christ himself.

In the same way, I believe that Christ is being born into the world through each and every one of us, each day.

You might be tempted to look at your life, with all its imperfections and interruptions, as wasted time and space. But I would invite you, challenge you, dare you even, as we move from Advent into the Christmas season, to look at your life with the eyes of faith. God is doing something wonderful with your life. Christ is being born into the world again today, even through you.

God’s will for your life is for you to see the image of Christ in yourself and those around you. No person or situation is so bad that God can’t work with it. And God, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, causes “all things [to] work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

This is the good news of Christmas: that God enters into this broken world, as it is, through us, as one of us, and brings good out of it for God’s own glory and praise.

St. Matthew writes in his gospel, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” Not some other way that might have seemed more ideal, but “in this way.”

This is how God worked through Mary and Joe in their less-than-perfect situation and it is how God is working in you and through you, no matter how bad your life might seem today.