Meister Eckhart wrote: “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”
What good is it? Isn’t that our question? It is our question about Church—going to church, belonging to a church. What good is it? It is our question about Christianity, about religion, about faith in general. What good is it
What good is it when there are church buildings all over the place and the world is still a hot mess? If there is still poverty, hunger, and many folks who are unhoused? If God still allows racism, misogyny, warfare and gun violence? What good is it if God doesn’t come down here and fix these problems?
Beloved, that’s not how God works. Christmas tells us that. This beloved story that is our story tells us that God doesn’t magically fix things because we are good or perfect or holy. Or because we get our religion just right. Unlike humans, God doesn’t move from a “quid pro quo” mindset. We may have been taught to believe that if we get our religion just right, then God will be pleased and fix things down here. And—of course—and then we will get to go to heaven.
Beloved: that is just not how God works; it is not the point; and we really need to let that understanding of God and faith go. Following Jesus is not about earning the golden ticket into heaven. In fact, none of the major world faiths are about that. They are about how we live. Here. Now.
Christmas shows us how God works. In the midst of the Roman empire–when folks are struggling—working hard and still not making ends meet. When too few have too much, and the tyrant makes life miserable for so many, God doesn’t wave a magic wand and collapse the empire. God sends a baby. God joins humanity. More than that—-God dwells, God lives, IN humanity.
And Beloved, there’s something that happens when the Holy, the Sacred dwells within us. It seems to release what Abraham Lincoln called our “better angels.” The holy within releases the force and power of love inside us. Christmas, after all, is a conspiracy of Love. Because Love attracts Love. Love empowers love. Love begets Love.
The holy resided within the One we know as Jesus—completely and entirely filled his being. And so his life was a life of healing, of restoring the outcast and marginalized back into their rightful place in community. His life was forgiveness and reconciliation, of feeding and providing water to the thirsty. He was a Kingmaker of Hope, of Love, of Peace and wellness.
And then there’s Mary. Mary who says yes, consents to becoming pregnant with Love and then giving birth to love. And this birth was like all other births: dangerous, painful, sweaty, bloody—requiring her focus and giving everything she had to birth Love into the world.
Our Christian faith gives us Mary and Jesus so that we will understand who we are. Who we are already and who we are always becoming.
Because the work of Jesus and Mary is now our work. Each generation’s work; every follower’s role: to say yes and become pregnant with Love. And then to do the hard labor to birth love into the world, again and again and again.
And not just any kind of love, but the love that in the Hebrew Bible is known as “hesed” Judith Valente in her book, How to Live; What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches us about Happiness, Meaning and Community, tells us that hesed connotes “...a kind of mother love, an extravagant love, a lasting love, a love pulsing in the gut, filling the bones. (75)
What if Christmas is more than a story with a “Hallmark” moment when we feel temporarily warm and fuzzy, joyful and generous—and instead: What if we understand Christmas as God’s ongoing conspiracy of love that heals and restores all things?
Beloved, as we allow Love to fill us, to become our what, become our how, become our why—then we become empowered to move to the hostile places, the gaps, the wilderness spaces and simply be. Be who we are. Love. And that love attracts more love. And then Love finds ways to fill the gaps, bring order to the chaos, and grow new life in the wilderness. Love is the power and force that turns hostilities into hospitals where reconciliation and healing take place—restoring Creation, and humanity to its balanced glory. Peace on Earth and good will for all people.
We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God—and this broken, beautiful world—is always waiting for love to be born. What good is it? Oh, Beloved. It is the very good that turns this upside down world right side up again. Happy Christmas.
James Baldwin wrote: Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can change if it is not faced.
Each year the Church calendar invites us to focus on Mary; for this I am grateful. But, Beloved, Mary—the mother of the Holy One—the woman who was chosen and asked; the woman who said yes and consented; the woman who gave birth to Love, to God, into the world—-she has been hijacked. By the very Institution for which I work and the reason we come together–the Church.
And part of that hijacking takes place in our readings today. Today’s reading from Isaiah took place when Israel was at war. At this point of time, it wasn’t the Israel we know now with boundaries and certain geographical locations. There was an element of different tribes of people—different nations within it. And different kings and rulers. Ahaz was the king of the southern part of Israel—known as Judah. But the northern kings of Israel and the area known as Aram–which is Syria today—were working together to invade Judah and replace Ahaz with a puppet ruler who would support their coalition. Ahaz was worried for his nation, his people—but also for Jerusalem and the prophecy that someone from the line of David would always rule there. As we learn in Matthew chapter 1, verse 9, Ahaz is a descendant of David. So not only the nation and the people, but a central prophecy for the Hebrew people was on the line.
After Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, which God had already offered to give, God ignores Ahaz and sends Isaiah to share the sign: A young woman of marriageable age–in Hebrew the word is almah—will have a son and the son will be named Emmanuel. And by the time the child is old enough to know the difference between good and evil, these Northern Kings and Aram will be gone. As will the threat to Judah. It is not a promise that the warfare will immediately end, but that Judah will still be intact—along with the prophecy—when the dust settles. All shall be well. So this sign—not of a virgin, there’s a specific Hebrew word for that–but the sign of a young woman of marriageable age giving birth to a son who is known as Emmanuel is given to Ahaz to assure him, to give him hope, during a very difficult and fearful time.
But the language and purpose of this verse changes when we hear this same quote from Isaiah as it is in Matthew’s Gospel. Even though Matthew most likely had access to the scrolls on which Isaiah’s books were written, he offers us just a little bit of a different version. The Greek in Matthew’s Gospel says: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. No longer just a young woman of marriageable age, but very specifically a virgin.
Now folks, times change but humans are humans. Even back in Jesus’ day young women of marriageable age had sex before they began to live with their husband. Back then it could be a punishable offense—even to the point of death—but it depended on how it was handled. It could be embarrassing for both families or settled within both families. Or as we hear today, settled by Joseph choosing grace and courage thanks to God’s messenger giving him some insight.
But why the heck does Matthew make a big deal of Mary’s “virginity”? Well, for a couple of reasons, one of which you may or may not know. At that time and in that culture, a virgin birth was a sign of importance. Jesus wasn’t the only one in history to be called a “God-man” —one who is both God and man. In fact, the Roman Emperor when Jesus was born made this claim. From the article “One of Many Virgin Births,”
A virgin birth, or a conception between a god and a woman, was a commonly understood and accepted concept in ancient times…….When ancient people wanted to make someone out to be more than a normal person, they [included details] for their story that showed how he received his divinity from someone or something. We know this because the ancients said so themselves. When Caesar Augustus was claimed to have been the son of Apollo, it wasn’t to show how Apollo had done a miracle; it was to show that Augustus was a son of god and had a right to rule. God and the Gospel writers seem to have had a very specific reason for the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus: there was a new king in town. ……The way ancient people figured it, to have a god-man here on Earth, you needed two things: a source for his godness and a source for his humanity…..The miraculous births in these stories show their audiences that these godmen were different from regular men.
The evangelist, Matthew, had a very specific agenda: he was trying to convince folks that this Jesus was THE MESSIAH. He was shoring up the newly formed church (writing about 50 or so years after Jesus’ death) and also trying to convince the rest of the Hebrew family that this Jesus was the One.
But Matthew was doing something different with the God-man here than had been done before. Rather than, as the Emperor Caesar Augustus had done—using Apollo only to shore up his own reputation; Matthew was also declaring God’s capacity to do the improbable and the impossible in and through humanity. This was a two-for-one purpose: elevating the status of Jesus in this society by using the means society offered while also revealing God’s capacity to do miraculous things.
I have no real quarrels with the Virgin Birth; I am not denying it. I can wrap my head around it as Mystery, and I can also hold it gently with a more logical explanation. It is a tenet of our Creed—for good or for ill. My quarrel is what the Church has done with it.
You see, back in the day and for generations and generations—frankly right up until the last couple hundred of years: the Church’s narrative shaped human thinking, human culture, human expectation and human beliefs. It shaped how we see each other and it shaped the hierarchy of human worth and value. And the Church took that word “virgin” with the purpose of creating a “Gold”, a “God”, standard for women that has devastated, oppressed and crushed women ever since.
Beloved: the world is created for all of us, but all of the systems that we live in were created by and for the male of our species. And so is the Church. And while our world, our systems, our institutions and hierarchies have been forced to allow women to have some power and some status, some voice and some authority in their realms, the systems haven’t changed. The systems do not adapt their ways of being and how they are structured and function. Instead, the expectation is that women will adapt and reshape themselves to fit into these male-centric ways of being and structures. And as all my sisters here know: that is exhausting. And it erodes our gifts that are game-changers when they are brought to the table. And many times we do not even know we are adapting and changing: silencing ourselves, asking for permission to offer our suggestions and ideas, making ourselves smaller so we take up less space—we do not even recognize we are doing it because it is our 24/7 reality and just how things are. We learn how to do it right along with talking and walking and breathing.
Beloved, it does something to the human spirit when you realize that when you are at your best the world around you requires you to be something less than that in order to be heard, to be seen, to be taken seriously. OH, I could go on and on, but there is only so much time right now.
Perhaps even more devastating is what happens to our infant girls, our toddlers, our school-age girls, our teens, our young women—to all women with that word: Virgin. If Virgin Mary is the gold standard, anything less is shameful. That is the message we get so very early in our lives. That a key characteristic of our goodness is tied into our virginity, our sexuality—not our brains or our capacities or our gifts and talents—but to our ability to say no to sex until the Church has deemed it allowable. Even though our male siblings are not held to the same standard; in fact, they are encouraged otherwise. Their maleness is tied to their virility while a woman’s is tied to her chastity. The Church set up the dichotomy of Virgin or Whore and every female since then has suffered for it in one way or another.
The church had a choice with Mary: what would its focus be: the theotokos—the God-bearer, the one who says yes in faith to the Holy and courageously and boldly gives birth to Love in the world…….or to present Mary as the Virgin Mary: meek and mild, submissive and calm, playing her part—but not too loudly, thank you very much.
I know: I may be making you uncomfortable. But I am comfortable with that. I am comfortable because as a 56 year old woman, I have lived with the Church’s intended or unintended consequences my entire life. I still do. I am comfortable with making us all a bit uncomfortable with this Truth because I have a daughter, nieces, granddaughters for whom I want the world to give them more room to breathe, to embrace their feminine gifts that go beyond the shape of their bodies. I want them to have room to utilize their God-given gifts and to grasp and demand the power that is theirs to offer toward the healing of Creation. When all the institutions, systems, governments, and ways of being are male-centric—this 50% or more female and nonbinary Creation becomes broken, violent, destructive and unwell. Beloved, we can and must do better.
I know those of us sitting in this sanctuary were not at the tables when the Church made these choices and decisions. But we are sitting at the table where this choice is still served and consumed. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can change that is not faced.
Oh, Beloved, Advent and Christmas is nothing if not an opening for new life to come to being. It’s not just silver bells and situational joy and merriment. IT is space for the real work of Christmas to be born and raised up. So let me leave you with this poem by poet Kaitlin Shetler:
god is a mother
and with that
the world stops
the world always stops
when woman and
as if the
when in reality
it embodies it
when jesus turns water
but when women turn breasts
a broken man’s body
is celebrated each sunday
while a broken woman’s body
is just hidden away
and it’s no wonder
that mother is a word
used by men
to demonize those
who don’t claim the name
and weaponized to shame
those who step out of line
plays the role of nurturer
built and led by them
she is neither quiet
she leads confidently
she questions authority
she commands respect
which might be the problem
for mother god
did not gather us up
but took her time with it
she fed us milk
birthed our souls
and broke her body
and the permanence
can be uncomfortable
and to disentangle god
to disentangle god
because seeing god as mother
is one step closer
to seeing god in me
and it’s in that
i am truly
I have a really good friend who has said, more than once, that she hesitates to talk about her faith or God with other folks because she often feels like she doesn’t know enough—that she might mess up the theology or not get it just right. That, somehow, when it comes to God, she isn’t smart enough. Even though she is one of the most love-filled, faithful folks I know.
Maybe you feel that way too. Like you’re not “God-smart” enough to really get it right when talking with others. But did you hear Jesus’ answer today when John the Baptist asks Jesus: “Are you the One who is to come or are we to wait for another?” Jesus doesn’t give a creedal answer. Jesus doesn’t use doctrine or dogma. Jesus says: What do you see happening? “.... the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.”
It isn’t doctrine or dogma—saying the right things and having the right head knowledge that Jesus points to in order to know who God is and what God is all about—-it is participating and witnessing the signs of the kingdom. It’s all about the signs–God’s love breaking into the world. Now, don’t get me wrong—there is plenty of head knowledge about God. After all, I went to seminary for three years, I sure hope it wasn’t a waste of time. But Advent is about that head knowledge moving down into our heart and then breaking out as action—loving, life-giving, liberating action–out into the world. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
There’s just so much Good news today, Beloved. Isaiah tells us of a highway. Now, in Hebrew scripture and storytelling, this highway is the one created and walked smoothed by thousands of people on their way back home after exile. Isaiah tells us: “A highway will be there. It will be called the Holy Way. The unclean won’t travel on it, but it will be for those walking on the way. Even fools won’t get lost on it. No lion will be there and no predator will go up on it. None of these will be there; only the redeemed will walk on it.”
This highway is for us. After all, we are the ones who so often exile ourselves from God who is love; God who is our only home. We lead ourselves astray. I mean that’s the story since Adam and Eve—we choose to live in a way that exiles us from Eden. We choose self-centered ways instead of the other-centered ways that keep us in right relationship with others, which then keeps us in right relationship with God. After all, that’s home: when we live in right relationship with God and all others. A bible word for this is righteousness. And Justice. And Salvation. We complicate it with catechism and doctrine and dogma—using words that seem too high, too lofty, too out of reach. But it is simply put (although still very challenging): Love God; Love neighbor.
And the Way is this highway; this highway Isaiah tells us is holy. The word “holy” in Hebrew means “set apart”. Not in an exclusive way. Not in a perfect way. But set apart as in: “not like the everyday society and culture around us” kind of way. Because this Way of Love is all too often not the way this capitalistic, every person for themself, dog-eat-dog world chooses. The highway home to Love, Sacrificial Love, is holy—set apart. A new way to walk in the world.
And this highway is for everyone. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: Ha, Jane! You weren’t listening….Isaiah says the unclean will not walk on it and it is for the redeemed. Beloved, do you remember that story in the 10th chapter of the book of Acts—when Peter is told to eat the food that has appeared in his vision, food that religious law had told him is unclean—the Spirit makes certain Peter comes to understand that anything God has made is clean, not unclean. This later leads Peter to accept the Gentiles as God’s people. No unclean walk on this Holy Way because there are no unclean. Whatever God has made is clean. And yes, this holy way is for the redeemed, but as Jesus makes clear on the cross—redemption is for all people. There are no unredeemed. Because, according to the Word, Salvation is for all people. A gift for all. But like any gift—it must be accepted. It must be taken. It must be owned—for that gift to become mine. For that gift to become yours.
And not only is this Way for everyone; there is no “trap” set for you there—no lions and predators to eat you up if you get it wrong. And, in fact, if you keep walking the way: you can’t get it wrong. It is “fool-proof” for no fools walk there. All the anxiety, fear, and doubt in ourselves that we tie up into getting this right is our own doing. Man’s own creation. God makes it foolproof and all-inclusive. And asks us to begin by trusting our hearts to the One who set the stars in the sky. Giving sacrificial Love permission to unpack its suitcase and get comfy in our hearts, minds, spirits and bodies—as we become our truest identity. And Beloved, we are always becoming.
Theologian and scholar Marcus Borg wrote: “The Christian life is not about pleasing God, the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”
This relationship with the Holy, when Love takes up residence within us and becomes our Why, it is an awakening, an epiphany, and it causes us to see our neighbor differently, this world differently, ourselves differently. As David Suzuki puts it: “The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore….if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber….if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity….then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge to look at the world from a different perspective.” Or as Isaiah says:...."Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared."
Beloved: in Scripture, the signs of God’s reign are never the rich getting richer or the powerful maintaining their power and authority and status. When love breaks in, it is always, ALWAYS when the poorest, the weakest, the marginalized and the outcast among us are lifted up, healed, cared for, included and restored to community—a homecoming. Shalom. That’s the Kingdom come. And it isn’t some ethereal, distant, disconnected God out there who causes it to happen. It is the God that lives within us—within humanity—the Living Body of Christ who is made up of both flesh and Spirit and who is always becoming and always raising the dead from life. Steven Charleston writes: I am willing to take the risk of love because I know the source of love.
When we are willing to take the risk of love, the sacrificial love we know in Jesus, when we can love others and all of Creation before profit, before convenience, before our comfort, our preferences, when we wake up to the truth that this Love lived out is the highway to our own wellness and wholeness, when we take the risk of this love—knowing many will call us nonconformists, foolish and rebels—then, Beloved: Peace on earth and goodwill for all peoples. Beloved, we know the source of love; let’s take the risk.
Lists. We all have lists. For example I bet right now, in your head—and probably in your heart too—you have a list of folks who you struggle to tolerate. People who really irritate you and you just do not like. They may be people you know or people in politics or people you haven’t met but who are in the news. They may be a type of person or a group of persons or even someone who was once a friend or neighbor, a co-worker or fellow church member.
When we hear this reading today:
"His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
We all have those folks from our list who come to mind and we think: Yeah, Jesus. Go get’em! Put that axe to that tree—throw that chaff into the fire.
Am I right?
But, Beloved, if we think the trees and chaff are people, that means God is perfectly fine with some people being axed down and some people being thrown into the pits of an unquenchable fire. And there are versions of Christianity that profess this as Biblical truth, as Gospel—and this reading is one of the reasons why they profess that.
But this translation of the reading would also mean that God’s desire for all creation—and all people—to be restored to right relationship to God and each other—that God’s desire is not going to happen. That salvation isn’t for all people, but only some people. That God is not going to get what God wants, and therefore, there is a power that is greater than God’s love.
Beloved, this cannot be the appropriate way to read and understand what John the Baptist is saying in the Gospel reading.
Today, I want to invite us to hear this prophetic description of Jesus’ role in the world just a bit differently.
Beloved, what if every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit isn’t a person? Or if the chaff isn’t bad people or the people on our list who get thrown into the fire? What if, instead, within each of us are thoughts, beliefs, habits and practices that get in the way of us living Love out fully and boldly 24/7? So within each of us are trees that need to be axed and chaff that needs to be burned. What if it’s not people who need to be cut down or people who are banished to the unquenchable fire but it is the pieces and parts within each of us that following Jesus puts an end to? A refining fire that burns away the dross to leave the gold?
After all, John the Baptist is calling us to repentance; the first words out of his mouth today are: Repent! For the Kingdom of heaven draws near. And of course, the Kingdom of heaven that draws near is Jesus. Within and through Jesus—his life, his words, his actions, his ministry—God’s reign can be seen, known, experienced and shared. As the Body of Christ comes near, so does God’s Kingdom come.
And John is telling us that repentance is required to see, know, experience and share that kingdom. This Kingdom we hear described in Isaiah when the way of life we are living right now, the way that is based on prey and predator, based on violence and warfare, based on imbalance of power and wealth, based on individualism rather than the Common Good–this way of life ends, and the Kingdom of heaven begins a new way of life. A way of life that is based on Love, on interdependent relationships. A life, a reality, where they will not hurt nor destroy no more on all God’s holy mountain. Repent, John tells us, Repent and Prepare the Way for God’s Love to come in through the wasteland that humanity has created.
Repent. This word means to turn around, do a 180, or as Biblical scholar Sara Ruden puts it: to change your purpose. In Jesus we see this as turning from a self-centered life whose purpose is me and mine to having an other-centered life whose purpose is we, us and ours. Turning from individualism to community, from us vs. them to we all belong to each other. We all depend on each other. We are all each other’s business.
It’s Advent: Repent. Turn around. Take up a new purpose. So, I’m gonna ask you a question—one that I do not want you to answer right now, but a question that I do want you to take seriously and to answer for yourselves. Maybe, when you are ready, share your answer with another trusted person who can help hold you accountable to your answer. Because humans generally need accountability when it comes to the hard things. So, here’s the question: What are you doing to turn around? To take up a new purpose? To identify the chaff within you that needs to be burned? And then what steps are you taking to let that controlled burn take place within you?
Beloved:The Kingdom of heaven draws near. And as the Prophet Isaiah tells us: On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
The root of Jesse—who we know as Jesus—-Jesus stands as a signal to all peoples. A signal: which is a sound, a gesture, an action that is used to convey information—that is used to begin a chain of events. Jesus stands as a signal to all people; his life is a series of actions that is meant to convey to us how to live— which then begins a chain of events– a ripple of effects of living differently that leads to loving, life-giving, and liberating repercussions which then change the world as we know it. This dog eat dog world is cut down at the root and thrown into the fire.
When the One who is Love becomes our signal, we become the Living Body of Christ in the world today. After all, that is what we profess. That is what we declare when we are baptized and say yes to God as our King. We are not just saying yes to trying to be good or trying to be nice or trying to do the decent thing most of the time. We have signed up to be the LIVING BODY OF CHRIST IN THE WORLD TODAY. The very place God dwells. Generation after Generation.
As St. Teresa of Avila reminds us:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body on earth now but yours.
“...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Sounds like a dream. And it is: God’s dream—for all of Creation and all of humanity. But to our ears, it sounds like a “wish” dream—like an impossibility, an improbability. This God vision Isaiah shares with us today seems so far off because the human ego would never choose it; the human ego never does.
This is why we are called to put our “Christ” on—to let the holy, the divine, be born within us. This is the revolution Jesus initiates and instigates into the world—the overthrow of our self-centered hearts—a complete regime change within individual hearts that turns the world as we know it upside down. But actually right-side up.
Beloved: how do we get there from here?
At the first Advent, Jesus as Love-in-the-Flesh is born into the world. So that the world might know that living this Way of Love as a human being is possible. So that we may begin to believe that this is Our Way.
Thus begins the Second Advent: Humans learning how to live as humans are meant to live: with love at our center. What Love asks of us is that we choose this Way for ourselves. We cannot control or demand this from anyone else. We can ONLY choose it for ourselves. It is so much more than attending a worship service each week or joining a committee that does the church work or earning a badge for attending the most Sunday school classes. Those are all good things—but only when they are practiced in order to seek a deeper and more meaningful purpose. These practices, these habits of worship, study, prayer and gathering—we are called to them all so that we can tend to our interior lives—these practices are markers and pitstops on a path to a deeper interior life. The revolution within us that unleashes revolutionary love into the world.
Each year, the Church gives us this Advent season to do the work of cultivating, of fertilizing, of cleaning up and making room so that Love can take root within. Or, if we have been around for a few seasons, for Love to be pruned and strengthened, for the roots to sink deeper and spread wider all so that our lives can more consistently, more intentionally, and more purposefully harvest and midwife Love out into the world: the third Advent. That time when instruments of warfare and destruction will be turned into tools of growth, nourishment and life.
And the purpose? Why do this? Why live differently? Why bother? After all, we know we will probably not live to see those swords turned into plowshares and those spears become pruning hooks. But Peace is still within our reach—and if Jesus is any clue—we can actually have Peace 24/7. Because Peace isn’t primarily when there is war no more (although I still believe that is the ultimate desire of God). But even in the midst of warfare: external and internal; even in the midst of loss, disease, and struggle, we can have Peace. We can give peace.
Because Peace means having the ability to remain whole, to remain centered in the middle of whatever life brings. That the chaos and pain of life can not completely undo us. Peace means we know who we are and whose we and we trust that we are held in a larger narrative which exists beyond the close narrative of our everyday lives, the “in-our-face” narrative of social media and politics and human cruelty. Peace believes there is a goodness, a wholeness, a force of Love that exists beyond this limited, earthly narrative, that there is a Power to restore us outside of this time continuum, this earthly life, this narrow band of existence that begins with our birth and ends with our death.
With every fiber of my being, I trust in this truth of another narrative beyond the dash between my birth and death. I believe in a forever reality that sometimes shimmers for me beyond the veil. It shimmers whenever I see Love exchanged; compassion cultivated; when kindness overcomes cruelty and we live as good neighbors. I think this may be the truth that Jesus tried to breathe into those gathered disciples who were witnessing his life beyond death. This “Peace be with you” Jesus extends three times to those scared witless friends who were coming to realize just who this King, this Messiah, really is. And as they were just beginning to realize what they must let go of in order to truly gain their lives.
I think this is why Christmas–and holy days like it: Hanukkah in Judaism, Rohatsu in Buddhism, Winter Solstice for Pagans—why these holy days are so loved, so treasured. Even by those who do not believe in the existence of a God. Because in our DNA—in the marrow of our bones—we do believe in this better reality that shimmers just beyond our touch. We do believe we know better, that we can do better, that we can be better.
So, Beloved, let us lean into the conversion of our hearts. Let’s do the work of Advent—cleaning up and making room in our interior lives for Love to move in as our constant companion. So that as we approach our neighbor, like our Buddhist siblings, we can say, “Namaste: The divine in me bows to the divine in you.” Maybe when we share the Peace, we should say: The Christ in me greets the Christ in You. Or even better (and more challenging): The Christ in me sees the Christ in You. Or The Christ in me loves the Christ in You. For this, Beloved, this turn, this labor for Love to become our heart and well-spring—this is how we, as humanity, can actually move beyond the human ego. This is how we can choose the better Way. How we live a better world into being.
Happy New Year, Beloved. It is time to begin again. Stay alert. Love is always longing to be born.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.