Living well for Christmas
For 2019 we developed a spiritual focus series based upon the call and desire to be living well as Christians as a call to faith. We developed Living Well in Lent, Easter Advent and now Christmas. This is a theme we have placed on our website and publications. The genesis of this spiritual call was born out the struggles of urban community residents to who dwell and seek God while struggling to cope with economic and social disparities. As the priest, who constantly hears and encounters weakening hopes and overwhelming fears that can have a debilitating effect physically, mentally and spiritually, I see the role of St Elizabeth’s as leading others to live well through fresh encounters with the God of Hope. God, we believe, positions us at the intersection where hope and faith encounters hopeless and brokenness. It is a call for living well in the Hope of God in Christ Jesus.
I have recently felt this spirit more strongly than ever when on the first day of Advent, here at St. Elizabeth’s, we watched a video of a woman, under the cover of darkness, try to destroy the front of our beloved Church; something that has happened many times this year. As we all watched this video, I’m sure each of us had different emotions. Some of us saw an angry, crazy woman and some saw a lost woman. I’m sure she is all of these things, but it was hard to see in the dim light illuminating the front of our church. This act was hurtful and painful to watch. At that time, a time when we needed to be proclaiming the coming of Jesus and thanking God for the great gift of His Son, this destruction covered our eyes and clouded our hearts in darkness. This act of vandalism seemed to echo so deeply within our community as it became another breach of normalcy, an added fear to overcome.
But, later that same week, I discovered a homeless couple sleeping in an alcove of our building. They were cold, hungry and bundled among blankets and two suitcases which held all of their earthly belongings. I began an encounter with them with doubt and misgivings, but eventually lead the couple into the warmth of the church for a brief respite from the extreme cold. When I tried to convince them to go to a shelter, they refused. The woman said, “…the shelters are dangerous. I fear being sexually assaulted or rob of what little we have. My husband has been injured and lost his job, and we quickly lost everything due to medical costs.” From stability to homelessness is a quick trip in our communities. “He is not strong enough to protect us. So, we have found this spot to be the safest spot to rest for a while”. This couple would rather sleep outside in the cold, near the illuminated cross of our Lord. They felt safe in the light of St. Elizabeth’s and in the light of Jesus. This is what St. Elizabeth’s is about; casting off the darkness and bringing people into the warmth of the light. This is the true paradox or the spiritual tension in which we live. On one side, those on the inside are feeling threatened by increasing attacks on religious houses and their congregations. While, for many this is still the safest place.
My friends, we are living in a dark world where politics, race and poverty divide us; where we are governed by men who would rather bow to a corrupt president than to fight to keep our country free. Our cost of living is rising. Churches, synagogues and mosques across the Country are being vandalized and congregations are being attack, shot and killed. Poverty and homelessness are evident in all of our great cities. Our young, Black men are incarcerated! There is an opioid crisis! We fight endless wars in which many young men and women are dying each day. These are dark times, and they mirror the days in which Jesus was born. We all know the story. We tell it each year, and each year we learn more and more how important this story is. Yet, hope continues to declare, “Faith in Jesus is still the safest place!”
We know Mary and Joseph were forced to adhere to unjust laws enforced by a corrupt government, a government forced upon their country through wars and the occupation of strange cultures. This young couple was poor. They journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for tax purposes. It is believed the roads were filled with people coming and going; desperately trying to get to their home towns to register with tax collectors. This journey was dangerous; strangers were all around and Herod’s soldiers, warned about the birth of a new king, were searching for a young couple. Because of the advanced state of Mary’s pregnancy, they had to move slowly. What a sight; a young pregnant girl accompanied by a protective yet aged man. They traveled in the day and in the darkness of night, filled with anxiety, and fear and when they arrived in Bethlehem, they must have been glad to find what for them seemed to be the safest place in town; that shabby, warm, poorly lit place, hidden from view where Mary could rest and finally give birth to Jesus, the light of the world.
My friends, the light of God is always guiding us, always journeying with us, and is always in us. Jesus came to us when the world was at its darkest; when hope was hard to find or even imagine. Yet, it was hope that kept Mary and Joseph moving through the darkness to find safety, warmth and light. They hoped, like any parent, the child Mary delivered into their dark world would be special and would share His light with those around Him. We know now that through Jesus, God came into the world. We know very well that Jesus, his teachings, his message, his spirit, his light points us to a way of life where we take care of one another and take care of the world. Jesus lights up our way. With him, we do not stumble in the dark. In the light of Jesus, we are loved and his light shines on us, warms us. This love, this light is in our homes and in this Church. In these dark times it is our responsibility as Christians to guard this light, fan its flames and shine it on those who may be blind to it, unsure of its power and seek it. In the light of Jesus, there is kindness, possibilities and love. This light of Jesus is in us.
Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Living well for Christmas means more than gift giving and receiving. It is about us become bearers of the greatest gift from Jesus; a love which tells of hope in God.
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
My friends, a new day, a new month a new year is coming. No matter how confusing, how filled with fear, how filled with doubt and darkness our world may seem, as Christians, we know there is a light that cannot be hidden, covered or extinguished. Let St. Elizabeth’s continue to reach out into the darkness and share our light, the light of Jesus. The light is in us.