Advent is upon us! What Christmas traditions and preparations do you enjoy or fondly remember? Getting a Christmas tree has been a fun tradition for my family and we will now drive 250 miles to be able to carry on this tradition with our adult children. The holidays carry a lot of traditions and memories for most of us making it a time of great meaning, but also increasing the potential for stress and loneliness. Life changes and high expectations can make it hard to experience the deeper meanings of the holiday season. The good thing is – there is good news!
The good news of Jesus’ birth centuries ago continues to resound today in a world that still needs hope. This is what we sing carols, decorate trees, give gifts and send cards to celebrate. The birth of God’s love in a completely unexpected way shouts an audacious hope not defied by skepticism or confined by nature. Christmas hope allows for new perspectives and possibilities even in the most difficult of times, because it was born from God’s unconditional love.
It is from knowing this love in the gift of Jesus that we can become grounded in hope despite where we are in our life journey or the state of the world around us. Being emboldened by God’s love to nourish connections with God and others empowers us to be who we are created to be: People in loving connection with the world. With this in mind, I challenge us to prepare for Christmas in two ways:
By connecting with God and others more deeply may we be inspired to shape the world with God’s audacious hope and Christmas love.
I know in our society we often don’t think from a ‘commandment’ perspective. We would rather hear suggestions and have the freedom to determine for ourselves how to live. However, we are willing to acknowledge there are laws we need to observe in order to enjoy our freedom. In our fractured society we can lose sight of the fact that we are called to be so much more than ‘legal’ or following the status quo. As people of faith we are given commandments, not just suggestions, on how to live that express the “more” God calls us to be.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is he answered, ““The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Note these are not suggestions – they are commandments. They are divine rules on how we are to be present in the world. First and foremost, we are to be grounded in our love for God. This is not optional. Secondly, springing from our love for God is love for others. As we know from the story of the Good Samaritan, our neighbors are any people we come across. Our neighbors are not confined to the people who live by us or who are like us or even the people we like. So many of us know this, but do we live it?
With compassion and sadness we express our grief over senseless acts of hate based violence that touch our world such as recent shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue and at a store in Kentucky. In 2017, 29 transgendered individuals were violently killed and this is just one more statistic that illustrates the brokenness and lack of care present in our world today. We know it is not right to treat other people in such ways and our hearts yearn to console and support those who have suffered or lost loved ones because of hate and discrimination.
While we separate ourselves from people carrying out such hate crimes, we really need to look at our own behaviors, attitudes and responses. All of us tend to categorize people, but Jesus teaches us to look beyond differences and similarities. By what we think, say and do, do we reflect Jesus’ commandments of loving God and others? Is this what people can see in our personal lives and congregation? May we look beyond the categories we tend to put people in and respond as beloved people of God who love God and help all of our ‘neighbors’ know they also are beloved.