If the Church is going to be the Body of Christ today, we are the ones who need transfiguration. And I'm not talking about building new worship spaces or playing new music or using the latest technology. That's not what the Nones are looking for. The transfiguration I'm talking about is more fundamental than that. What we need is a reformation. Next year is the 500th anniversary of the first Protestant Reformation, and we are way over due for a second one. In the twenty-first century, if we don't let people of other faiths or no faith challenge us, if we don't let science teach us, if we don't let Christian doctrines grow and change with us, the world will one day be full of Nones and in the Church there will be next to no one.
For Gandhi, as for most Hindus, your religion isn't just a part of you; it's your whole life. Jesus' willingness to give it all, to suffer and die for Truth makes him a Hindu saint. If we could learn anything from the Hindu Jesus it would be that sacrificing oneself for God is an essential part of the good life. Hindus are better at it than Christians, according to Gandhi, and I think he's probably right. Here in the West, our biggest obstacle to following Jesus has always been our own ego. In India, the soul or self is one with the Universal Soul (Brahman). To recognize that is to be liberated from the fears, cravings and conflicts that cause us so much suffering. But in the West, our Soul is not one with anything. Instead, it stands alone. We consider it not one but Number One. Here we major in Self-Preservation not Self-Sacrifice. And because we try so hard to gain our life, we end up losing it in a thousand ways. Rarely do we risk losing our life for Christ in order to save it. [Mark 8:36]
In general, Buddhists are a lot more comfortable with religious pluralism than Christians are. But that is the world we live in today, and one thing Buddhists can do is help us Christians get beyond our dualistic, either/or way of thinking about everything. To survive on this planet, we need more both/and thinking. We already have some practice holding seemingly incompatible ideas together. We say that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. We say that God is both Three and One. So could we possibly say that both Christianity and Buddhism are true?
To the surprise of most Christians, Muslims feel a special closeness to Jesus. For one thing, Jesus and Muhammad stand together because, in Islam, there was no prophet that stands between them. And Jesus is mentioned 93 times in the Qur'an, more than Abraham. His mother Mary even has a book named after her, the only woman so honored in the Qur'an. But that isn't all. There are literally hundreds of stories and sayings of Jesus recorded in Muslim literature outside of the Qur'an. These references date from the eighth to the eighteenth centuries. Some have clear connections to our Gospels. Others have parallels with other early Christian works that didn't make it into the New Testament. And still others are completely original. Why this continuing interest in Jesus?
Jews teach us that Jesus is no slouch when it comes to holy living. Our Jewish Jesus is challenging. He is always calling us out for making excuses for not living up to the love of God. Of course, we complain that there is no way we could ever, on our own, fulfill the Law. And that is very true. But the point is that Jesus came and did fulfill it, and by his grace and mercy, those who follow him can, too. So let me summarize Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount this way: God has given you one precious life. What are you going to do with it? You may not know it, but you are a partner in God's redemption of the world. What are you going to do about your little corner of it?
The turning of the year gives us a great opportunity to go home by another road. Today, let's make a resolution not to take the road of fear, not to make decisions based on fear, but to be courageous and take the road of faith. Believe me, we will have many opportunities to put our resolve to the test in the next year.
The truth is that the true light will never be seen in one of those light-infused homes in a Thomas Kinkade painting, because no one lives there, least of all Kinkade himself... The Good News of Christmas is that the true light is coming...into our homes, with all of our cracked windows, dirty closets and dishes piling up in the sink. The true light is coming into our lives, with all our broken promises, festering wounds and bags of guilt and regret cluttering up the hallway. But the good news is that we don't need picture-perfect lives, where the darkness in us is painted away with dabs of false light. We can face and embrace the darkness because the true light is coming.
God loves Christmas even more than we do, not because of the merry-making, the gift giving, or the caroling. Christmas gives God joy because in this season, we make more of an effort to love as Mother Mary does, by caretaking and homemaking. Every day in the newspaper, there's another story of some person or organization that our community is caring for. And every Monday, we gather here to plan how we can make a home for a few vulnerable people this winter.
Wenceslas is the archetype of the good king, the one we are always looking for, and the one I'm afraid we will never get to vote for. But we don't need to. We already have a good Lord and we are already learning to walk in his footsteps. And that makes our own journeys so much easier. Nineteenth-century critics of this carol complained that the tune, which was originally for a song about spring, was too upbeat and joyful for such a somber theme. But those critics don't know what we know about becoming friends with the poor on the journey. When we reach out to help them get home, it is a joy. When we bring them along, we can't help but break out in song.
But whatever kind of home we were born into, by now, we all live in the same landscape. The wilderness that John is in is the life that we all live in. And the quickest way to make our way home to God and one of the best ways we can prepare for God's come home to us is for us to make a way home for others. It's in the work of leading others home that we discover that we're already there. But if we string up the barbed wire, if we put up roadblocks so that others can't make it safely home, neither can God, neither can we.