I was sitting with a group of men reading Luke 21:5-19. We get together every Sunday night in the hope God will speak to us in some way. The passage is known as the "little apocalypse". Jesus talks about hard times we will all go through. "...Nation will rise against nation...there will be powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues and awesome sights...they will seize and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons...you will be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends".
As we read and listened, it hit me how appropriate the passage is for today. The East Coast gets hit by rare earthquakes, and floods blanket part of the nation. Drought is rampant across the South. Around the world, millions are threatened by war and famine and disease. We are in the midst of an economic meltdown and millions of Americans have given up hope of ever finding a job. Iran seeks nuclear weapons and young Americans die in Afghanistan every day. In this room, everyone has made choices, which so hurt our families and friends and we lost our freedom because of our weakness. In political discussions, we see no middle ground and we watch as paralysis grips the nation's throat and we seem incapable of cobbling together solutions to any of the multitude of problems we face. Our children wonder if this is the end of the world as they have known it. Sound familiar? Pretty dark times.....
As the passage was being read a second time, I became aware of music coming through the wall. Our room is next to the chapel and someone was rehearsing. As Jesus described trials and tribulations we will all have to endure, I recognized the song. "O Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem!" This is my favorite Christmas carol. Right then it struck me as a total counterpoint to what we were reading. No one in the chapel knew what we were reading. No one in the chapel knew what we were doing, but in reality they were addressing the fears and anxieties we all have about our world and our time in it.
The entire work we call scripture is the story of God revealing Herself to us and our reactions to that revelation. It is a chronicle of our fits and starts trying to figure out how to relate to God in our own world. It is the story of an evolution in which humans begin to understand what is possible, what is promised and the hope that promise represents in an otherwise dark and scary world. O Come All Ye Faithful...why? The carol calls us to celebrate a human baby being born who is going to join God to humanity in a way where nothing can ever keep us in the darkness again. (Its called the Incarnation as we become one with God in an entirely new way) When we read the passage from Luke the first time, it was scary and troubling and each of us was alone with our thoughts and fears. The second time, as we listened to the faith and good news coming through the wall, w heard the rest of the message. "...for on this day a child is born and He shall be called Emanuel...God with us."
The world is a scary place. Each day holds the potential to be disastrous. Even those with plenty must wonder if they will find life to its fullest or accept the false promises of a commercial economy urging us to surround ourselves with lots of "stuff" so we don't have to face the real stresses and concerns of modern life. Darkness is so easy to give into and despair a blanket to pull over our heads.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke speak of "good news". What could be better news than to know we exist because God wishes us to have life...we exist to draw us as close to God as possible and it's what God desires most of all...we exist and not even death can stop us...we exist and are promised a full life (what is your definition of a full life?).
I live in a place where despair and hopelessness are constant companions. I'm here because of my own sinfulness and free choices I made. Along with everyone else here, it would be easy to give in to the temptation to surrender, give in, succumb to the sadness and let go of the light. However, the music reminds me there is hope and it's mine if I want to have it. It's yours too.
"Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today, in the City of David a savior has been born for you, who is Messiah and Lord." I am not afraid. (Ok, I still get scared and worry about my wife and family and I still haven't forgiven myself for my stupidity but I am a work in progress) I will sing and celebrate the birth of a Jewish boy who overcame the darkness of life to offer me hope. To all of you, I am so grateful for your care and support and I wish you a glorious and merry Christmas