Christmas Eve Homily
December 24, 2022
Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
Angels singing, stars shining, awe and wonder all around! Christmas magic!
I confess I am a sucker for magical stories, particularly at Christmas. I’m a sucker for Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings and more recent fantasy magic series such as Wheel of Time and the rise in popularity of magical realism in literature. I love wizards and supernatural creatures and movies like the one we watched the other night, “The Boy Called Christmas,” about the magical Nordic origins of jolly, old, St. Nick. I love all these things. But that’s not what I am thinking of when I say Christmas magic. I am also a sucker for the magical ordinary thing like the warm, fuzzy, magic feeling we get when we see the twinkling Christmas lights in Old Town Fort Collins or on our own tree, when we smell Christmas breads and cookies baking, when our family is gathered around the table and behaving well, when we light the candles and sing “Silent Night” as we will do in just a moment, when beloved memories of Christmases past come flooding into our minds and hearts. I love all those magical, wondrous things as well. But still, that’s not what I am thinking of when I say Christmas magic.
What do I mean by magic? I definitely don’t mean trickery or chicanery. And I don’t just mean fantasy stories or warm, fuzzy feelings. When I speak of Christmas magic, I am seeking something deeper. Trying to put my finger on it, grasping to articulate what I something I feel deep within, a connection with the Holy. There is a 14th century definition that tells us that magic is the “art of …. producing marvels using hidden natural forces.”[i] Hidden natural forces …. I think of the hidden natural ways of the world such as the magic of human birth – the births of all earth’s creatures – the magic of seeds sprouting in the dark, rich, even cold, soil, the magic of photosynthesis, the magic of birds flocking in a murmuration, the magic of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly in a chrysalis. Yes, we know these marvels through science that explains the wondrous mechanics of the world. Scientists can tell us about the origin and movement of stars. We have phenomenal photos of stars from the Hubble and Webb telescopes. And it is scientifically true that there are elements in the cells of the human body are the elements of stardust, most likely made in the supernovas of stars. I love all these things and they are marvels of hidden natural forces…magic!
However, Spirit draws me deeper still in my quest for Christmas magic. As I ponder these things, I realize with the help of theologians and mystics that, perhaps, Christmas magic is grace. Grace: unmerited favor, love, and help, particularly coming from God. Grace: to give thanks, to praise.[ii] Grace, not something physically tangible, until we experience it in action. In Luke’s story of all the events leading up Jesus’s birth and its joyous proclamation there are marvels of grace, hidden natural forces of God. Consider how Divine Love’s unmerited favor came upon an unwed mother and brought forth the gift of the Child Emmanuel, God-With-Us. How exactly? Pregnant by the Holy Spirit literally? Or blessed by God’s love in a state many a young woman has found herself in not necessarily through her own fault, pregnant and unwed? Does it matter how it happened? Every child is a gift of the Holy and holds the divine spark of God’s love. And think of the grace of Joseph as he takes Mary as his wife and raises the child, Jesus, as his own. Is this not a marvel and have we not seen this extension of grace in relationships in our own community? Its divine love! It’s a hidden natural force that can be found within the heart of all human beings if we each pay attention. It’s grace! It’s magic! It’s present and possible in each of us right now!
And on the larger level of the story, did you hear the opening of Luke 2? “A decree went out from the emperor Augustus, that all the world should be registered.” All shall be registered so that all can be taxed so that the empire can grow in the power and might that oppresses the poor and lifts up the rich. All must go to their hometowns…. all, the sick, the lame, the pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth…to be registered. It’s a forced march in a dystopian world of those who have conquered, those who must obey or else. There is no grace here. This is not quite the romantic story we are expecting. The story of Jesus’ birth begins with great hardship under a brutal regime. And yet, God’s child slips in at an unknown address, “no room in the inn,” off the grid, an unregistered place and is born in stable, cradled in a manger, among the animals of God’s creation.[iii] God’s grace slips right through that net of the emperor’s control. A marvel from hidden natural forces made manifest in the kindness of God’s people and the nurture of God’s creation.
Then there are the shepherds – more unregistered folks who have no address, who live in the hills caring for animals that produce wool and meat for the care of God’s people, not for the forces of empire – the shepherds are the ones who receive the divine good news which shall be to ALL people![iv] Grace for ALL people, not for control and subjugation of the world. God’s love and grace are active and present in the world the shepherds proclaim. And we shall know this grace and love in the face of a vulnerable, newborn baby in an obscure stable, off the grid of public recognition, surrounded by humble human and creatures. The shepherds hear and believe. They go and see. They trust what they see and they proclaim God’s good news. The lowliest on the empire scale of worth are the worthiest to bring the world the greatest news – God is with us – ever and always. Thus, down through the ages we will know God in the marvels of hidden natural forces, the birth of a baby; the baby who grows into a twelve-year-old boy with tenacious and precocious questions in the Temple learning from and with the rabbis; the baby who grows into the young man teaching, healing, telling stories, over-turning tables of greed, in the name of God’s unmerited grace and love for ALL people!
This is the Christmas magic I have been searching for. How about you? God’s grace come in human form to bring good news to the poor and healing for the sick, liberation for the captive. This is the good news that God sets us free from the greed of the world, the power grabs of tyrants, the smallness of our own fearful hearts. As we embrace the magic of God’s grace, marvels of justice and love made manifest in hidden natural forces, we are empowered to BE, to embody, God’s grace in our hurting world. We are set on a magical quest to bring the realm of God into being here and now.
It is Christmas Eve, my friends! Tonight, may we glimpse God’s transforming Christmas magic through sparkling tree lights, gingerbread smells, family and presents, and singing Silent Night lit only by candles. May we know that it is a deeper magic which carries us though every day of the year as we follow the ways of God made known in the Christ Child come to be with us in heart and mind, soul and heart. May we Be the magic of Christmas in the world all year long! Angels are singing, stars are shining, awe and wonder are all around! Merry Christmas! Amen.
©The Reverend Jane Anne Ferguson, 2022 and beyond. May be reprinted only with permission.
Imagining the Words of Joseph
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning
Plymouth Congregational UCC, Fort Collins, Colorado
18 December 2022
That was one of the strangest nights of my life. And it was such a difficult situation. (You think the holidays are stressful for you? Try being engaged to a wonderful, kind young woman who manages to become pregnant without the benefit of a husband…or even a human!) Try explaining that to the neighbors. You know there have been times when I have seen an unmarried woman stoned to death for becoming pregnant. It is not tolerated in our culture.
I was absolutely shocked when I found out that Mary was with child, since she and I had never had sexual relations and I had been sure — well, almost entirely sure — that she had not been with another man. My plan was to send her away to relatives during her pregnancy and to quietly end our engagement. She was the love of my life…what else could I do?
I’m not usually one to remember my dreams, but I do remember this one. The messenger of God appears to me (nothing like this had ever happened before) and he was radiant and spoke with the voice of authority, and said, “Don’t worry what everyone will say. Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The child she carries was conceived by the ruach ha-kodesh, the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus.”
I kept thinking to myself: why Mary? And why me?
You wouldn’t believe what both Mary and I endured during the pregnancy…the whispers, the gossip, the righteous people who gave us the cold shoulder, many family members turned their backs on us. Two things kept us going: our deep love for one another and our faith in the Lord and the messages he sent to us through the angels. It wasn’t just Mary who was chosen to bear a son; God knew it would take a compassionate father to love and raise Jesus, and I hope that I’ve done that well.
They had to find someone whose lineage could be traced right back to King David. In my family, we can trace our ancestors not just to David, but all the way back to Abraham. My father was called Jacob and his father was called Matthan, and his father was called Eleazar… back beyond the time of Exile. There are 14 generations from our ancestor Abraham to King David and then another 14 generations from the time of David to the Exile and then another 14 generations from the Exile in Babylon until my son Jesus was born.
Now that years have gone by, one thing puzzles me: I’ve heard that in all of the accounts being written about Jesus, they seldom about me, and while they recount the song that Mary sang about her soul magnifying the Lord and the poor receiving good things, there is not one word from me. I know, I shouldn’t be bothered about it.
But, I have to correct a few things about Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great son. But when they sing, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”… that is just plain wrong. The lungs on that child…ear-piercing shrieks when he needed to be changed. And that other song they sing, “All throughout his wondrous childhood, Jesus honored and obeyed.” Sometimes he honored and obeyed, but not all the time. You know about the time when he was a smart-Alec adolescent and he just disappeared. He scared the dickens out of Mary and me. We were up in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and we thought he was right there with us and our other children when we were headed home with all the others. One minute he’s with us and the next, he had vanished into the crowd. “Honored and obeyed,” as if! We were terrified, and then when we searched the crowd and didn’t find him, we headed back to Jerusalem, and there he was in the Temple Courts with the elders, asking questions and acting as if he knew it all. I’ll tell you, we were not only angry with him, but also astonished. He was holding his own.
Not bad for someone who worked with his father as a carpenter. He wasn’t a big kid, and sometimes he needed a little help hefting the larger logs that we sawed into boards, but he was great with his hands. Nothing rough-hewn about his woodworking…it was all well designed and put together. He had a real knack for carpentry. In some ways I wish he had stuck with it. His life would have been so much simpler.
He always admired his cousin, John, who frankly was a little “off-beat.” John had visions of being a spiritual teacher, which is fine. But instead of staying at home and becoming a rabbi, he set off into the wilderness, out toward the Jordan. It isn’t the most hospitable territory, and I heard that he subsisted on anything he could find out in the desert. Of course, there was no manna out there…just insects like grasshoppers and locusts and some wild honey, if you are lucky enough to find a bee’s nest. And John didn’t care what he looked like. He dressed in a rough cloak of camel hair that he had woven himself on a little hand loom. It still smelled of camel. Out there he was proclaiming that by being immersed in the River Jordan, people who truly changed their ways would be forgiven by the Holy One. And he had a following, to be sure. So many people trekked out to the Jordan to hear him and to be washed in the Jordan.
Jesus went out there also, and I told him to be cautious about his cousin, who… I didn’t want to say it, but … who is a little crazy. John baptized Jesus and then he said that John himself was not the one sent by the Lord, but that he was not worthy to tie the leather thong of the sandal on the one whom God had sent: his cousin, Jesus.
Jesus himself went into the desert wilderness for a full 30 days as if to test himself, to be sure that he was worthy of preaching about the realm of God, a world just as the Lord himself had intended us to live. No poverty. No hunger or thirst. No injustice or oppression. No empires to steal land and lives from those they invade. Instead, a world of healing the ill, restoring sight to the blind and hearing to those who were deaf. A world where peace and compassion and wholeness were the order of the day, instead of selfishness, greed, oppression, and ignorance.
I taught Jesus a lot about how to use a plane, a saw, and a hammer, but I couldn’t have taught him about God’s kingdom. That came from a different parent. So, that is where he is today, walking from place to place around the Galilee, proclaiming a new way of living in closer relationship to the Holy One. I know that he has made some of the religious authorities angry, because he sometimes says things that upset the Romans and even challenges some of the ritual observances that are central to our faith.
One thing that his mother and I did instill in him from the day of his birth right through to today: it’s all about love. We look around and we see the love of God everywhere: in the beautiful array of stars in the night sky, in the kindness of a parent, in the hospitality of an innkeeper, in simple bread and wine, in the births of children. And Jesus pushes the love of God even further. In fact, once I heard him say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” An amazing boy.
How about you? What do you think life is all about? What is most important to you? What brings light into the world? What brings hope and peace and joy? If you listen to my boy, I know you will think that it it’s all about love.
I’ve thought a lot about its amazing power. That love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not arrogant or boastful or rude. It isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy in the truth. Love trusts all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends.
Maybe somebody should write that down and quote me for a change.
I bid you shalom!
Organizing Around Joy
Isaiah 35.1,3-10 and Matthew 11.1-6
December 11, 2022; Third Sunday in Advent
Plymouth Congregational, UCC
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
1The desert and the dry land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the crocus. … 3Strengthen the weak hands, and support the unsteady knees. 4Say to those who are panicking: "Be strong! Don't fear! Here's your God, coming with [requital, recompence, redemption]; with divine [justice and restoration] God will come to save you." 5Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared. 6Then the lame will leap like the deer, and the tongue of the speechless will sing. Waters will spring up in the desert, and streams in the wilderness. 7The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground, fountains of water. … 8A highway will be there. It will be called The Holy Way. The unclean won't travel on it, but it will be for those walking on that way. Even fools won't get lost on it; 9no lion will be there, and no predator will go up on it. None of these will be there; only the redeemed will walk on it. 10The LORD's ransomed ones will return and enter Zion with singing, with everlasting joy upon their heads. Happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and groaning will flee away. - Bible, Common English. CEB Common English Bible with Apocrypha - eBook [ePub] (Kindle Locations 27681-27706).
1When Jesus finished teaching his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ, [the Messiah, the Human One] was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, 3"Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" 4Jesus responded, "Go, report to John what you hear and see. 5Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6 Happy are those who don't stumble and fall because of me." - Bible, Common English. CEB Common English Bible with Apocrypha - eBook [ePub] (Kindle Locations 38242-38249).
In the ancient traditions of Advent today is “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete, the Latin word meaning “Rejoice!” This is the Sunday of rejoicing! Rejoicing even when we see so many shadows of sadness and grief in our world. We light the candle of Joy in the face of sadness and grief. Not because we are denying the sadness and grief, but because we know a bigger story. We know this story because of the testimonies of our ancestors in faith, like the prophet, Isaiah, because of the life and love of our pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus of Nazareth.
Isaiah and Jesus knew the bigger, resilient story of the Holy ONE’s presence and work in the world. With his people Isaiah was facing a world going up in flames as the Babylonians attacked and conquered neighboring countries, threatened Israel, eventually conquering it as well. The chapter preceding the joyful one we just heard together is dire, full of doom. It reminds me what we hear from climate change activists. Dire and immediate warnings…. and necessarily so! May we listen and act accordingly! It reminds me of what we hear and see from Ukraine and other war-ravaged nations in our world community. The devastations that we human beings wreak upon one another. May we listen and respond compassion! I am also reminded of the first stanza of the poem that is the centerpiece of our Advent devotional for this third week. It is Maya Angelou’s poem, “Just Like Job.”
My Lord, my Lord,
Long have I cried out to Thee
In the heat of the sun,
The cool of the moon,
My screams searched the heavens for Thee.
When my blanket was nothing but dew,
Rags and bones
Were all I owned,
I chanted Your name
Just like Job.[i]
In the face of all this grief and sadness and destruction, hearing and living the promises of God from the prophet in Isaiah is a stronghold and refuge. “Be strong! Don't fear! Here's your God, coming with [requital, recompense, and redemption]…” Healing will happen, the blind will see, the lame walk, the earth will be healed with streams of living water and the desert will bloom! There is a highway called the Holy Way to walk towards healing, a way to walk in healing. Even fools will see the way! Happiness and joy will overwhelm; grief and groaning will flee away.”
We also take heart from Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 11, echoing the ancient prophets, Isaiah and Malachi. John the Baptizer sends him a probing question from the depths for a prison cell. “Are you really the One sent from God? “Jesus says to John’s disciples who are the messengers of the question, “Go, report to John what you hear and see.” (Notice, not who you think I am or might be, but what do you see happening in the world!) “Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them.” Trust what you see and hear. Happy are those, says Jesus, who do not stumble because they second guess what they are seeing and hearing. They trust.
Jesus reminds John that dire times have been upon God’s people before, yet God brings a resilient cycle of redemption and renewal. God’s kin-dom is now and in coming and will continue to come! There is joy even in the midst of dire times. Look for it! Recognize it! Rejoice! God’s work in the world is full of joy and it is resilient. The Merriam Webster dictionary tells us that resilience is: “The ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens. The ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, bent, etc. An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Justice activist, Corina Fadel speaks about resilience like this: “The way water knows just how to flow, not force itself around a river rock; then surely I can stretch myself in the shape my own path is asking of me.”[ii]
These reflections on resilience spark in me in a quiet, confident joy as I consider them with the words of Isaiah and Jesus. When bad things happen, when life goes awry, when we are faced with sadness and grief, we push back and say, “No!” “No, life! You are not doing this to me! How can I escape? How can I make this go away? I must resist!” We hurt. We are angry! Normal reactions to abnormal situations. We can, we must, acknowledge the sadness and grief before we can move further. And in the pain, the Holy invites us to sit listening for God. Waiting is not easy. But neither is resisting and refusing to listen. We wait for God, as we are waiting in this dark time of year for longer days to return. I have found that in the waiting and listening something new begins to happen, something news comes slowly, but surely. Living water bubbles up from the dry places of my soul. I learn to see again, to walk again in confidence with God. To find that highway in the desert that even fools cannot miss. And my heart can begin again to organize itself around joy.
The pain might still be there…. but it is now living alongside new life, new growth. When we stay in resistance to the pain, I am stuck in a soul-sucking quagmire. When we stop struggling against it, feel it, acknowledge it, listen quietly to it and to Spirit, then we can see and hear that the desert blooms again, there is new life even in the face of death and joy comes in the morning. Our soul can flow in and around the pain like water over river rocks. We can stretch ourselves with God’s love and compassion into the shape that our paths are asking us to take. Joy comes. Not an easy happiness that depends on circumstances, but joy that runs deep at a soul level.
Maya Angelou knows this cycle of resilience. Quoting her poem again, “Just Like Job,” she sings with the psalmists of old,
O Lord, come to Your child.
O Lord, forget me not.
You said to lean on Your arm...
The wonderful word of the Son of God. [iii]
Joy co-exists with sorrow, writes the late priest, teacher and soul-work author, Henri Nouwen, “because it is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing - sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death — can take that love away.” [iv] That can be a tough to trust, can’t it? The world does not often run on unconditional anything, much less love. Everything has a price, doesn’t it?
Yet this is the miracle love of Christmas. God’s unconditional love comes in the baby, the Christ Child, God-with-us in the flesh in the world. God’s love is vulnerable. It invites our love. It grows into the powerful message and model of Jesus who lived God’s love even unto death and beyond.
On the path of Advent, we wait and listen in these darkened times. We wait for the time when we celebrate once again the resilience of God’s love made human. We wait for the light to break through in Hope, Peace and now, today, in joy. Joy, that deep well-spring of Love that fuels the realm of God on earth. Joy that comes in the face of, co-exists with, sadness, pain, and grief. Joy is what we can organize our hearts and minds and lives around as we make our way in the world walking Holy highways of justice-seeking, of kindness, of compassion to make God’s realm visible wherever we might be.
With Maya Angelou, let us cry out to the Holy One, saying,
….I’m stepping out on Your word.
I’m stepping out on Your word.
Into the alleys
Into the byways
Into the streets [poem here]
Friends of God gathered here this morning … let us step out on God’s word this day, Joy!
©The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, 2022 and beyond. May be reprinted only with permission.
[i] Maya Angelou, The Complete Poetry, (Random House, New York NY: 2015, 168.) Read poem here.
[ii] adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy, Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, (AK Press: Chico, CA, 2017, 123.)
[iii] Angelou, 168-169.
[v] Angelou, 169.
An Advent sermon related to Isaiah 11:1-9 and Dalai Lama quote on peace
To uplift the unexpected possibility/emergence of peace
and to connect it with the realization of justice.
Isaiah 11:1-9 (The Inclusive Bible)
Then a shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse;
From Jesse’s roots, a branch will blossom.
2 The spirit of YHWH will rest on you,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of counsel and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and reverence for YHWH.
3 You will delight in obeying YHWH,
And you won’t judge by appearances,
or make decisions by hearsay.
4 You will treat poor people with fairness
and will uphold the rights of the land’s downtrodden;
With a single word you will strike down tyrants,
With your decrees you will execute evil people.
5 Justice will be the belt around this your waist
faithfulness will gird you up.
6 Then the wolf will dwell with the lamb;
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the lion cub will graze together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear;
their young will lie down together;
The lion will eat hay like the ox.
8 The baby will play next to the den of the cobra,
and the toddler will dance over the viper’s nest.
9 There will be no harm, no destruction anywhere
in my holy mountain,
for as the water fills the sea,
so the land will be filled with the knowledge of YHWH.
For the Word of God in Scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.
In January of 1915, in Great Britain, the Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News published a letter of a British military officer. Captain Robert Patrick Miles wrote home on Christmas Day from the Great War’s trenches, the front lines of World War I. He wrote:
We are having the most extraordinary Christmas Day imaginable. A sort of unarranged and quite unauthorized but perfectly understood and scrupulously observed truce exists between us and our friends in front. … The thing started last night – a bitter cold night, with white frost – soon after dusk when the Germans started shouting 'Merry Christmas, Englishmen' to us. Of course, our fellows shouted back and presently large numbers of both sides had left their trenches, unarmed, and met in the debatable, shot-riddled, no man's land between the lines. Here the agreement – all on their own – came to be made that we should not fire at each other until after midnight tonight. The men were all fraternizing in the middle … and swapped cigarettes and lies in the utmost good fellowship. Not a shot was fired all night.
The letter was published posthumously.
Captain Miles was killed 5 days after he wrote this letter on December 30, 2014.
Unexpected peace broke out that Christmas during the First World War.
The tragic fact that it did not last is, of course, reason for deep disappointment, sadness, and grief. Yet, the fact that this unexpected peace occurred is soul food for our imaginations. It is manna in the wilderness of violence and violent expectations. The story’s unexpectedness, the fact that we call it that, unexpected, points to the expectation of a lack of peace in our collective imaginations and even the cynicism that can make a home in our hearts, especially in the light of mass shootings like Club Q in Colorado Springs, King Soopers in Boulder, others around the country, and in light of the Jan. 6th insurrection at the Capitol building.
Yet, the prophetic voice we hear in the passage from Isaiah this morning has no such limitation of imagination and expectation. Isaiah’s prophetic poetic imagination offers a vision, a hope, even an expectation for his people who stand in their time also amidst the darkness of deportations and war. Even in such a time, the prophet Isaiah offers a vision of peace that comes about by justice. In this case, justice brought by an ideal sovereign whose connection to God imbues humility, wisdom, compassion, and a sense of equity. Amidst these qualities, there is a reconciliation in the land so profound that even the lion shall lay down with the lamb.
In the story I shared, the War to End All Wars resumed and Captain Miles was killed because, of course, nothing changed in the systems in which these humans lived. No policies or orders were changed, no heartfelt connection and conversation was had by the warring nations’ leaders. They would not make room in their imaginations for another vision. These leaders, and many of their citizens, were prisoners of their limited sense of self and of the other, captives of their nationalistic, competitive worldview and its expectations.
As a Peace with Justice church nationally and here locally at Plymouth United Church of Christ, we uplift an understanding that what makes for peace are conditions of justice.
The Dalai Lama said it this way:
Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.
Indeed, what makes for justice are peaceful actions of justice-making by peace-filled nonviolent people like Rosa Parks, Dolores Huerta, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and like First Nation youth and elders at the Standing Rock Reservation a few years ago. And many unnamed others. All of these people made room for a dream of peace based in justice, made room in their imaginations in such a way as it led them into actions for that vision of Just Peace.
This also can be the case in our personal lives where our conscious imaginations fail us and we set expectations, often unconscious, based on our internalized family systems that demean or inflate ourselves and/or the other, that make no room for a new vision of what might be possible, of making a way to inner peace and healing, unexpected though it might be. In that world of habitual confinement and conflict, there is no room for imagining reconciliation of lion and lamb, no room for the advent of a light of peace amidst that darkness. The status quo expectations of our internalized family system and the status quo expectations of culture and history can and often do keep us captive.
Is it too much for us to make room for a story like the Christmas truce of 1914, to make room for something unexpected, something beyond our usual expectations of age or situation or personal or historical habit?
Is Isaiah an unrealistic dreamer with all his lion and lamb talk?
Are such stories and visions all just wishy-washy, touchy feely, cotton candy Christmas talk?
Dr. King and others didn’t think so.
Their communities of faith trusted Isaiah’s prophetic vision of an unexpected peace, let it embolden their prophetic imagination. Then they directed their hopes and charted their actions toward that unexpected vision of a just peace, even as they waited for it amidst the darkness of injustice.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
When John Lennon penned his lyric for Imagine and said he imagined no religion, no possessions, no heaven and hell, he was naming the toxic forms of religion and possession that limit us, divide us, and lead us to injustice and violence. Indeed, we are better off without them. He was encouraging us, from the darkness of our limited cultural expectations, to imagine differently, to make room for an unexpected vision of how there could be peace.
As we now come together at the Banquet table of God, let us faithfully imagine differently, like Isaiah, and make room for an unexpected coming of peace. AMEN.