But clergy are not the only ones with a calling around here. The job is far too big, the challenges are too complex, and the old ways are too resistant to change for pastors to do it alone. Note that Jesus didn't call any clergy. He called everyday folk. If you want to fish for people, you need some fishermen. If you want to collect people, call up a tax collector. If you want to preach repentance, better be sure there are some sinners in the audience. The point is that all the raw materials (and I mean raw!) that Jesus needed to start a revolution of radical love were right there in front of him. And I strongly believe that everything we need is right here in front of us, too
I sometimes think how the world would be a better place if people were more like their pets. Forget the political parties; let's recruit some new candidates from the Humane Society! Remember the dog that was elected three times as mayor of a little town in Minnesota? Dogs are so electable because they are so lovable and, what's more, they seem to know it. They are certainly eager to share it. It makes me sad to think that the average person has so much trouble believing what the average dog seems to intuitively know: that they are beloved.
As Paul says, this is the church's job: to live in the joy of Jesus. No one else is going to make the rulers and authorities know that no matter how much money or power or social media presence they have, they cannot drown out the Good News. They cannot tweet away the Truth. They cannot roll back the boundless riches of Christ. Nor can they ban anyone's entrance into the kingdom of promise. You don't need any documents or DNA tests. With boldness and confidence through faith in him, anyone—and I mean anyone—can walk right in!
If recessions, droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires can't keep Christmas from coming, what makes you think you can? Nothing that is going on in your life right now, nothing that is going on in our country or world right now, can keep God's love from coming in the flesh. Christmas comes even when we don't have any money or any energy and when we feel like we are losing our sanity. Even if the worst happens and we have to cancel the celebration, God's not going to cancel the incarnation.
Though their circumstances were very different, all these women—Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, and Mary—sang about their struggles with the forces of evil. For Miriam, it was Pharoah's army. For Deborah, it was the Canaanite king. For Hannah, it was all the women who ridiculed her for not having children. For the unwed Mary, it was everyone who was going to question her story. Here is my question: how could these women do battle every day with the evil and injustice of life and still sing for joy?
Call it hormones or call it sisterhood or call it the Holy Spirit, but somehow they have found an inner strength that enables them to en-joy, to enter into joy, despite the fear their pregnancies have caused them, despite the heart-ache those boys will bring them. Mothers of healthy babies are lucky; they get to carry joy around in their bodies. But all of us—men, too—carry the potential for joy inside of us, even if we don't know it or can't feel it. Even if no brain scan or ultrasound will reveal it.
Joy is very much like love: precious to us because it comes at a cost. The deserts that we go through in our lives are the downpayments we make for the joy we will come to know.
If "Grace Actually" were a movie, this is how it might begin: We glance back at this year and wonder: where is the grace? Where is the kindness? Where is the decency? Where is the mercy? Where is humility? And what is wrong with humanity? But then we take a better look around and it isn't hard to see. Grace is everywhere. You won't read about it in the newspapers, but it's there, in a million small things and some big things, too. The truth is that every single day we are being rescued. Every single day someone is dying to one life and being reborn in another. Just go to a hospital. Go to a homeless shelter. Go to the bathroom and look in the mirror. In every single moment, we are upheld by grace. And when things fall apart, grace is what glues us back together. So all the bad news this year has given God all the more opportunities to give us the good news and it has made us all the more ready to hear it and to share it. Despite all appearances, grace actually is all around us.
There is no time that is sacred anymore. Before it ever arrives, it's already spent. Like the oil in the foolish maidens' lamps, there isn't enough of it to get us through the night, let alone the next day and the next and the next. And so we are in a perpetual panic, a constant state of unreadiness. It's only when we crash and burn or get sick or our kid is in crisis or we have a parent go to the hospital or to the mortuary that we see how foolish this all is. When we are sitting in the dark because our lamp has burned out, where is Jesus when we really need him? Does he shut us fools out because he does not know us or do we shut ourselves out because we don't know him?
Young people are not all rejecting Christ. Many of them are simply rejecting what passes for Christianity in too many congregations across this country. So it is long past time for a new encounter with Jesus and a new reformation of faith in this land of the free and the brave.