Although most of us might not have had a mystical experience on a street corner, there are those other times. Kind of like epiphanies, but not quite. There are the times when a previously hopeless situation shines with refreshed possibility. When, out of absolutely nowhere, you have a spark of insight that arises in the midst of ordinary circumstances. Or a fleeting moment when the scales fall from your eyes and you see what is truly important in life…
That’s the thing about prophets: they’re not provocative for provocativeness’ sake. They sense a Spirit-breathed call. That’s what gives them the courage, the conviction, the stamina. Firm trust in the loving justice of God fuels ordinary people to risk telling the truth. But that’s another aspect of being prophetic: the price. There’s always a price…
We are all called, wherever we are to, by our words and deeds, point the way toward the infinite compassion and peace that we find in the God revealed in Jesus. Like Jairus, faithful leaders realize that they cannot heal the world by themselves or bring hope to others by themselves. They are the ones who push through a laughing, cynical crowd saying, “No, death and despair never have the last word… and like the woman who had the tenacity to grab hold of Jesus’ tunic, leaders of this sort lead from their own struggle to find God in the midst of pain and confusion.
[Jesus replies] The seeds are scattered in rocks, thorns, shallow dirt, and rich soil; they’re no respecters of ground. So it is with God’s kingdom– God’s radical love showers upon all without consideration for merit or response or inherent goodness. Yes, it’s true, that people respond differently to me, what I’m about, and the kind of world I’m trying to shape. There are powers that try to stamp out my kingdom at every turn, you know that. But that’s my concern. I am still going to sow wildly and indiscriminately.
We don’t welcome because WE have deemed people tolerable. We don’t accept others because WE find them acceptable. We do so because we recognize that this world belongs to God and we are not entitled to any corner of it. We do so because we, too, are broken, imperfect people in need of grace and mercy. We are or can be, on any given day, “those people.”
Naming those demons and inviting the presence of Jesus in those experiences can be healing. I’ve prayed for people who can’t seem to shake a destructive habit before along the lines of, “God, set them loose from this awful thing.” Or someone whose life is in ruins because of depression, I find myself saying, “God, free them from this weight!” So many people have stories about how appealing to a higher power has delivered them (they use that language). It seems that, through the Spirit, Jesus is still about the work of casting out such demons, releasing people from what binds them and leading them to wholeness.
It is radical enough to suggest that God donned human flesh, let alone in this manner. The messiness of Christ’s birth reveals the character of a God who is present in the stuff of real life, in lives like ours, in a world as chaotic and disordered and scary as the one we live in. God is present in the mess. God chooses to come among us in the broken, poor, and rejected, those others would discard. That is the good news in the grittiness of Christmas. That is the depth and extraordinary wonder of the love of God made flesh.
Our God is open to the risks of freely loving creatures. God prefers to “guide our feet in the way of peace,” to put the onus on us for shalom. God prefers to set the example for living through one human life. God prefers to redeem the world through the messiness of community, composed of free moral agents such as ourselves. As some Hasidic rabbis are fond of saying, “Human beings are God’s language.” It is through people like Zechariah and Elizabeth, through people like us (and unlike us, too) that God works for shalom. Even when we’ve lost the words, the Spirit moves within us, frees our tongues, and allows us to speak, “Peace be with you.”
I said it just a few weeks ago, but I’ll say it again: history repeats itself. Human civilization, across cultures and times, runs in cycles of war, migration, evolving technology, and social conflict.
The Temptations (the musical group) were right. You know the song, “Ball of Confusion”? And the lyrics, “That’s what the world is today… Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide.” Things are always in a state of flux. I think it was an ancient Greek philosopher who said, “Change is the only constant.” But the fact is that some people cope well with change and others do not.
The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther once wrote: “What does it mean to have a god?… A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart… the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.”