Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. - Philippians 4
Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. - Luke 3
Dear friends -
The children of Abraham aren't getting along very well these days. In truth, we haven't been for a very long time. I'd wager that Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, who have long since found their peace, are pretty tired of listening to us bicker - watching us slaughter and despise each other - from their heavenly realm.
We really come from the same place. Really. And that ought to make a difference to us. I remember, growing up in a small village, that people from our neck of the woods often spoke scornfully of those who hailed from our neighbor village five miles away, and vice versa. I can't recall what either community's gripe with the other one was; it was all hogwash anyway - the ugly voice of fear.
As our steps bring us ever closer to the stable in Bethlehem, we continue to juggle the aching question of whether we are getting ready for Christmas, or getting ready for the Christ child. If we remember to be attentive to the latter, the former will, I have no doubt, take care of itself quite nicely.
The Scriptures on which we're invited to meditate in this season of preparation include the words of the prophets - some well-known, some less so, and from both Testaments of the Bible. Today, John the Baptist, whom we might call the last town crier before the arrival of Jesus, speaks to the themes so common to the prophets of the Hebrew Testament.
What makes a prophet? Among other things, they tell us both things we are desperate to hear and things we really don't want to hear. John tells the gathered crowds that the One who is coming will baptize them with more than just water, as John has done; the coming Messiah will baptize them with the life-changing fires of the Holy Spirit. And he reminds them that the children of Abraham include a lot more people than their comforts and prejudices lead them to think. The Gospel writer Luke, who tells this story, calls this Good News, and, for a people who have lived in desperation for so long they can remember little else, it is so. This is the voice of hope, offered to the hopeless.
But John also calls the people to account, just as do the Hebrew prophets of earlier times. In the simplest possible terms, he tells the people that the very heart of their hope is in re-awakening the spirit of generosity that sleeps within them. While that spirit slumbers in us, we scorn the poor; we ignore the homeless; we turn away the desperate refugee. This is the part we really struggle to hear. "Oh, you really mean that if I have an extra coat or food, my task is to share these things? Come on now, I like that other coat, and I was saving that food for friends who might stop by over the holidays." Or, "One of those refugees might do something awful."
Some people say that "religion and politics don't mix." And, in a way that I think we don't fully understand, they are absolutely right in saying so. The sorry truth is that our politics are profoundly un-generous. The essence of our faith is that God is profoundly generous, and that God calls us to be the same.
We need only listen to the obscene call that we ban all Muslims - our sisters and brothers as children of Abraham - from entering this country to know how ungenerous our politics is, or has become. The prophets tell us that it was little different in Jerusalem a few thousand years ago. And if, in the season before the arrival of the Prince of Peace, we do not interrupt this obscenity, we are not listening to those prophets.
Advent is a tough season; just ask Mary, riding her donkey, ever closer to the time of her child's arrival. But she is uplifted on that journey by the words spoken to her by an angel of God - the words spoken countless times by the prophets: "Fear not. Do not be afraid. God is with you."
Let us remember this. Let us remember it when some bloviating candidate for office stokes the fear that lies in our own hearts with hateful words. Let us remember it when we quake alone in the moments before sleep. Let us also remember that he most charitable thing we can say about the loud, ugly voices of our political realm is that they are speaking out of deep, and very common fear; fear that God challenges us to set aside - to replace with generous-hearted hope.
Fear not. How many times does God need to remind us of this? More importantly, how many times do we need to remind ourselves and each other of this?
As many times as it takes to make it the way we live and love. The Prince of Peace is coming. It's a rough road to that place, but it is coming. This is the message that faith needs to speak to nations - and to the darkest places in our own hearts.
Please join in this holy journey. We worship at 10 AM on Sunday, when we lift up God's sweetest of promises; and the Holy Child, echoing the words of the prophets, reminds us of our own part in making such promises come true. This act of worship nourishes our challenge - to let our gentleness be known to everyone.
That would be everyone. No exceptions.