Muslims and Jews follow a lunar calendar, so their holidays move around a lot. But last year the birthday of Mohammed fell on Christmas Eve. And this year, the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve for the first time in 111 years. For the children of Abraham, that's a remarkable convergence. So I've asked my husband, Hank, to tell the story of Hanukkah, light the Menorah and say the blessing in Hebrew. Then I'll tell you why.
When it comes to the internet, we are left wondering, why does chaos spread so effortlessly and quickly, but love does not? The answer to that question points back to the incarnation. I would say that chaos spreads so much faster in cyberspace because it doesn't need a body, and love does. You can telecast the hate on Twitter pretty easily. But sharing the love is far more complicated. There are many variables. At the least, it requires our heads and our hearts and our hands.
There is a scourge plaguing this country. And I'm not talking about the Zika virus, the heroin epidemic, cancer or the Kardashian family. No, the silent sickness that has descended upon America today is loneliness.
So what if we treated our fears the way Newt Scamander treated his fantastic beasts? He named and claimed each one of them. And instead of trying to hunt them down and kill them, he studied them, so he could learn all he could from them. What if we did the same with our fears? I believe that by God's grace, we could learn a whole lot about love from them.
So we have good enough historical reasons for celebrating Christmas in the darkness of winter. But I believe we have even better theological reasons for doing so. What I want to argue today is that we need darkness in order to understand Christmas. I want to try to convince you that if we never experience darkness, we will never be able to see the one true light.
Shepherds are supposed to protect the sheep. So what do we do when shepherds say things that incite others to go after the sheep? The question of how to make our communities safe is being asked by city councils and school districts all over the country.
We finished the series on Paul last week, so on Sunday night, I went back to the lectionary and found two choices for the sermon today: this passage in Isaiah about the new creation or one in the Gospel of Luke about the end of the world. At the time, I wasn't sure which one would be most appropriate for a sermon after the election, and I'm still not sure, because a lot of us don't know what just happened or how we got here.
To preach on the politics of Paul, I could launch into a long discussion of the various schools of Christian political philosophy, but I think it will be more helpful if I just tell a story. This is the story of one Christian for whom the politics of Paul was no abstract theory; it was a lived reality. This is the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
From the beginning, Christ was the plan and the purpose for creation. Christ is the revelation of love and the destination of love. And Christ is what holds everything together until we get there. So Rohr says that we have to stop thinking of Christ as the "divine plumber" come to fix the mess we got ourselves in. [Rohr, "Love Is the Nature of Being," 10/25/16] When we make Jesus out to be a problem solver, we make him too small and our understanding of salvation becomes small, too. But salvation is not just the solution to the problem of human sin. It is much bigger than that. Salvation is God's purpose for everything.
I'm thinking that Paul, in his best moments, was able to write down truth that he had not yet lived. On rare occasions, like in his letter to the Galatians, he was able to glimpse a vision of a kingdom that had not yet come. The fact that he couldn't live there all the time only confirms what we already know about ourselves: that our vision is incomplete (we see as in a mirror dimly, I Corinthians 13); that our spiritual connection to God is intermittent at best; and that our culture usually has more influence on us than Christ does. So just because Paul couldn't grasp the full implications of the gospel and its radical vision of freedom and inclusion is no reason for us to dismiss him. Whether he knew it or not, Paul planted the seeds for that vision. Buried deep in his words was a Word about dignity and equality that has taken many centuries to begin to grow.