It is a complicated Season. What shall we do?
as told by Deborah
It was then that John the Baptist appeared in the outlands of Judea, with his insistent message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is fast approaching.”
This is who Isaiah was talking about when he said, "The voice of one shouting in wild and desert places: “Make way for the Lord, clear the path!”
John was dressed in animal hide with a leather cord around his waist; and he ate whatever he found: crickets and berries, honey straight from the hive.
Despite )or perhaps because of* his appearance, people came to see him from all over the region, even from the great city of Jerusalem. His words touched his hearers, inspired them, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when Pharisees and Sadducees started turning up, he challenged them, “You snakes! Who warned you to escape the holy rage that is coming? Show that your repentance is genuine in the living of your lives. Don’t presume on your heritage, thinking that you’ve got an in with God because of your ancestors — as if you can’t be replaced; because I’m telling you, God can turn these boulders into worthy descendants of Abraham.
“The axe is already in the orchard, sharpened and ready, and every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
There is no escaping; it is before us, beside us; we are hemmed in at every side. We are enmeshed in the “holiday season.”
So, what does that mean for us, as Christians?
By its nature, this is a season of mindfulness: a time of prayer and reflection, of awe and thanksgiving: a Child was born to us! We are celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Allelujah!
But not everyone finds this season a cause for rejoicing, and we’re all affected, to some degree, by the way it is embodied in our culture: the marketing and mayhem and hedonism that has become “a holiday tradition.”
Some respond by going into turtle mode: drawing themselves in, avoiding exposure to as much of the Seasonal “noise and nuisance,” as one such described it. Ebenezer Scrooge notwithstanding, there is a lot of pressure, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, to be bustling, cheery, or at least upbeat in the midst of the madding crowd. For those of an introverted nature, it’s like being dropped, unprepared — unwillingly, into the middle of a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade.
We pray for them.
Others are simply tickled pink (or red and green), throwing themselves all in to the festivities: decorating, baking, shopping, caroling; attired in reindeer antlers or Santa hats, their eyes sparkle, their whole beings positively fizz with Christmas joy. They are a pleasure to behold and fun to be around..… if sometimes a bit overwhelming.
We pray for them.
And of course there are the children: dazzled by the twinkling lights and twirling garlands, awed (or terrified) by the Santas, fascinated by the trees festooned with glittering ornaments, the gifts in bright wrappings, and the endless displays of toys. To watch the wonder and delight in their faces as the tale of the Birth of the Baby is told: donkeys and angels and shepherds and sheep and stars and magi and all — is to hear the Story again as if for the first time.
We pray for them.
Important, too, are those for whom the Season is a time of terrible possibilities. It is as if they are standing on the edge of a precipice in a windstorm, staring into the abyss, wondering if a sudden gust will push them over the edge. Or perhaps a memory, a regret, a fear, an inexplicable sadness, a sudden impulse will lure them, Siren-like, to their destruction.
We pray for them.
And there are the damaged, heart-hardened ones who delight in spreading hurt, discontent, and disruption. Mired in despair, they envy and resent those who do not share their misery, and seek to drag others down to their low estate.
We pray for them.
We pray for all: for those who believe, for those who doubt, for those who scorn, for those who wonder, for those who wander, seeking.
We pray for all the world.
And we pray for ourselves, that we may be strong and faithful bearers of the Good News of God now and throughout all of the days to come.
This is a season when we Christians are called to special service: to be the Good News, out walking around in the world. Compassion must be our primary mission, our Default Mode, our intention and our prayer — for, hidden beneath the busy-ness, the effervesce, the holly-jolly-ness, the cynicism, and the contempt, there is often suffering and fear. We are still, no matter what our age, children who are afraid of the dark — especially that final, unknowable dark that closes our lives here. And in this Season of the Long Nights and the year’s ending, that specter casts its shadow over the face of the earth.
It is now, in bleak midwinter, that Christians must proclaim the Light that Shines in the Darkness. In our increasingly secular society, in which Christmas means nothing more than consumer spending, over-eating, and too much drinking, despair and loneliness kills more people than any disease.
Now there were in the same region shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, good will to all people!”
~ Luke 2:8–14
God’s will for us is peace: shalom — not merely the absence of conflict, but charity and compassion, abundance, generosity, kindness: peace and good will. God wants what is best for us and wills and works for our greatest good. We have not been abandoned; we’re not alone in a cold, uncaring cosmos: we are beloved.
It’s really very simple. The world as it appears isn’t all there is. It is a great and marvelous creation, to be sure: there is much beauty and goodness, much love and joy — and much sorrow. But that isn’t all there is. There is an alternative reality, if you will, a reality alongside our own, more true and genuine, more powerful. It is the realm of Eternity, the kingdom of Light and Life, the Fount from which every blessing flows. It is there that our Lord Christ dwells; it is his native land, and he came to us to show us the way there.
And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.”
God is on our side. This present darkness that seems ever-increasing, is not all there is: it isn’t the Ultimate Reality. The truth, the light, the life of all people entered into our world in long-ago Bethlehem so that all might see and know and be redeemed from fear and hopelessness.
Do not be afraid, do not despair; even in the darkest night there is a Light, a luminous reality beyond our ordinary mortal perception. It is there, in the stillness, in the mist, in the seeming emptiness: God is with us. Whatever befalls us or our world, the darkness is never total; it has not, never has, nor never will overcome the Light.
This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
~ 1 John 1:5
So, let’s celebrate the coming Light! That doesn’t necessarily mean pile on the fruitcake, jingle bells, mistletoe, elf hats and reindeer antlers — though do carry on, if the Spirit so moves you. But, above all, especially at this time of year, we Christians should be alight with holy hope — no, not hope: expectation, assurance — certainty.
What better time than this to celebrate? What better symbol of the One that banishes the darkness, who gives life to all the world, who redeems and restores, than the northern hemisphere’s return to the Season of the Sun? Look to the heavens and see the irresistible, unstoppable heavenly Radiance!
We await, with certainty, the Light to come.
Let the Holy Light shine in your life and into the world. Rejoice in the Coming Light.