“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.” (Isaiah 9:2) The land of deep darkness in Isaiah’s prophecy seems all too much like the place we ourselves are living at present. We are bombarded in the media with bad news about the state of our planet– melting glaciers, species threatened with extinction, disappearing farmland and endangered cities. And the state of humanity seems even darker and more hopeless, with civil wars and terrorist atrocities abroad and endemic racial division, violence, and injustice in our nation and our own community.
In the midst of all this darkness, what are we to do? The paradoxical good news is that recognizing our own inability to solve the problems of the world is a step in the right direction, since it makes us likelier to recognize and welcome the light and hope that God sends to us. As Isaiah promised, God’s light pierces through the darkness to shine on those who walk there. As John’s Gospel proclaims, this light– unlike our limited human capacities– will not fail: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And this light, embodied in Christ, has become the true source of wisdom and hope for all people: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” In other words, the kind of wisdom that really matters is as likely to be found among those who are poor and powerless and ill-educated by human standards as it is among the upper classes and the educated elite. God has freed us all to teach and learn from each other by bestowing this light equally on everyone. For those of us who long to see the healing of the divisions and inequalities in our society, this may be the best Christmas gift of all.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Two thousand years have passed since Mary heard the words in this week’s gospel reading, and we hear them with very different ears than she did. I try to imagine how an adolescent girl hearing these words in the 21st Century would respond. I imagine it would go something like this:
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
“Umm, we are taught the Almighty has been with us since we were slaves in Egypt. But thank you very much.” [Who is this guy? What does he want from me? How worried should I be?]
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
[Whew! It must be okay.]
“. . . you will conceive a son . . .”
“What??? Wait! I’m a virgin!” [Uh, oh — he could be trouble.]
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you . . . “
[Oh, no, I’m not going there! This is creepy.] “You have to leave or I’ll call my dad.” “Dad!!!”
How would you respond if you were confronted with an angel giving you this message?
What would it take for us today — sophisticated, wary, skeptical — to say “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”?
And yet every day we are being sent the message that we have found favor in God’s sight — and he has a scary job for us: Feed the hungry. (But there are so many . . .) Clothe the naked. (I take our used clothes to thrift shops!) Care for the sick (Oh, boy, health care politics again.) Visit the prisoners. (Right. Prisons are dangerous places!)
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Trust — perhaps trusting that God will be with us as we do the job he has given us is the hardest, scariest part of following Jesus. But there really isn’t any other Way.