No, I am not going to do it. I am not going to ask you if you are prepared for Christmas. Why not? Well, many people would instantly feel the stress coming up of all the things they still have to do, or should I say, all the things we have imposed on ourselves, whether it is preparing family dinners, writing cards or newsletters, extra choir practice, reviewing our health insurance, finishing projects at work or travelling and visiting. When we come to church, we don’t want to be reminded of that, do we? We are looking for some peace. Well, we’ve come to the right place, because we can find peace with Christ.
I am preaching to myself as well! I had planned a hundred things for the last two weeks of this year. Normally you can do only half of what you have planned. In my case an unexpected eye operation means that I can probably do no more than a quarter. I have to make peace with that. We all have to make peace with something in our lives.
So, instead of asking if we are ready, perhaps we should ask ourselves another question? How well are we at ease with things being imperfect and incomplete, while still holding on to our hope and faith that, in the end, all will be well?
Is that not what the prophet Micah did, when he foretold the coming of the Messiah, which would finally bring security for God’s people? Micah compared his own time to a pregnancy and to labour pains. The good stuff was necessarily preceded by difficulties.
Just like a pregnancy cannot be hurried, so the coming of the Kingdom would only take place when everything was ready. The Bible calls it “the fullness of time”. It will be the same with the second coming of Christ. We can pray for the hastening of His second coming, but we cannot predict it or cause it to happen. And it is the same with the rebirth of Christ in our hearts. It cannot be forced, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening!
We, who have received the Spirit of Christ, may always trust God to bring to completion what He has started in us. If we truly believe this, then we will neither flee into frantic activity as some Christians do, trying to make ourselves worthy of salvation, nor into passivity, which would be a denial of the reality and transforming power of the Spirit.
All this ties in really well with our reading from the book of Hebrews. When Christ came into the world he said that God did not desire sacrifices or offerings, but a body. The sacrifices and offerings can be compared to our frantic activities, all the details that we think we have to attend to, and by which we often also judge each other. It may be a ritual, or being expected to say the right words, or giving donations or time. What Christ said, was: forget about the details and the activities. God is interested in you and me as persons. It is not what you do, but who you are.
So the body that Hebrews speaks about is first of all Christ himself, our perfect sacrifice, which made all other sacrifices obsolete. And secondly, we are called, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. But how different is this kind of sacrifice from the mechanical and destructive sacrifice that some fundamentalists and extremists still think is required.
A suicide bomber also sacrifices his body, but when we give ourselves, it should be for the benefit of those we meet and for our own health and growth. It is the kind of giving with no loss. Neither will it be an attempt to win Gods favour, but a response to His mercy, as St.Paul also mentions.
Finally, both Hebrews and Romans speak of obedience to the will of God, words that can make us modern people feel really uncomfortable. Until we realize that, again, God is not interested in what we give up, but in who we are in relationship to each other. Sure, many think they are doing God’s will, but Christ came to abolish one kind of obedience (the slavish type) and establish another (the mature and considerate type).
Unfortunately many people still carry obedience to extremes, damaging each other in the process. Many others, partially because of this, want nothing to do with this kind of God with all his strange and contradictory rules and laws. But this group is tempted to make another mistake and become selfish.
So, let me repeat my question: How well are we at ease with things being imperfect and incomplete, while still holding on to our hope and faith, that in the end, all will be well? Well, in the gospel of Luke we find two people doing just that. Elisabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, recognized that Mary’s baby would be very special. Although she was expecting her own special baby, she was able to ask “why this honour, of meeting the mother of my Lord?”
In much the same way, the Bible encourages us in various places to recognize Christ in the other person. When that happens, it is not only a virtue, but something is resonating in us. Both parties are encouraged and receive new hope. In the case of Mary, it led her to praise God and utter what would become known as the Magnificat, which in turn has inspired millions of people including scores of musicians.
But of course our salvation is not in the repetition of the Magnificat.
I always like to go back to the source: A mother who reads the positive signs in the midst of trouble. John the Baptist who defers to Jesus. Jesus who defers to the will of God.
Perhaps this Christmas, we could all meditate a little on what exactly makes Christ so special. And also on how we could be more open to the goodness and potential in others. We can only see our own future in a positive light when we can also envision a future for everyone.
To the sceptics among us, and we all have our sceptical moods, don’t we? I would say this. What would you rather choose, the security and consolation that Micah and Mary spoke of, and which Jesus promised, or the security that our secular leaders are promising us, in exchange for giving up much of our privacy, income and national sovereignty? When Mary says, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly”, and we translate this to our time where we have the ability to vote, it means that God can make a difference through us. It also means that when we don’t have any influence on the course of events, we will still be lifted up and protected.
There is no way that evil can survive itself. Therefore our enemies (or those we consider as such) are not our greatest enemies. Our biggest enemies are our inner fear and tendency to de-humanize those who appear to threaten us or even those who compete with us. It helps if we see the good in everyone and if we also expect it to surface under the right conditions. This is what Christ did and that is why it is so helpful to keep ourselves aligned with the spirit of Christ.
You see, it’s not a matter of doing a whole lot of things – of being hyperactive. It is primarily a matter of attitude. A multitude of saints have already given us the right example. So we can almost lean back, this Christmas! What do you say?
(don’t take this too literal, please, as we still like to see you in church, for instance). But the main thing is to have a calm reliance on Christ’s message of compassion. Then new hope can be born in us and in the world at large.