with reference to Luke 3:1-6
In the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod tetrarch of Galilee, John the Baptist heard the call to hike out the desert by the Jordan River and proclaim that it was time for people to turn their lives around, to make way for God to live among and within them.
In the 63rd year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the 2nd; in the year Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister, and Rev. Jordan Cantwell was elected moderator of the United Church of Canada, in the 68th year of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, in the year of an estimated 11 million Syrian refugees, and a world in confusion and fear with the destructive madness of ISIL and Boko Haram, the word of the Lord came to… each one of us.
It comes in part through the impassioned words of Naim Ateek, the leader the Palestinian Christian liberation theology movement – Sabeel. Naim offers a message for the Advent and Christmas season by first quoting Philippians 4:8-9:
“Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9)
Then he writes: “Dear Friends,
When we look at the state of our world today and the messy situation we find ourselves in, it seems ludicrous at this Christmas season to talk about peace on earth, love of neighbor, compassion for others, and joy and goodwill to all.
Tragically, we have been witnessing on a daily basis terror vs. terror, military power vs. military power, revenge and counter revenge, a hundred eyes for one eye, and inhuman behavior among people. Jesus Christ seems to have no place in the raging conflicts, and justice does not seem to stand a chance.
Yet it is precisely in the midst of this terrible world predicament, political turmoil, and human devastation that we must proclaim our commitment to the above virtues. As Paul wrote, we need to continue to dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable…” We need to think about these things and act on them and “the God of peace” will be with us.
At this Christmas time, we, therefore, insist that the God in whom we believe and trust is the God of peace and love and not war and hate. We cling to our faith in a loving and compassionate God who calls us away from hatred and violence and into justice and reconciliation.
We believe that the birth of Jesus Christ represents God’s commitment and personal involvement in the life of our world and its people. Jesus Christ continues to inspire us to re-commit ourselves to the work of justice and peacemaking and to a life of sacrificial service to others especially the weak and oppressed among us. Christ continues to be our Emanuel. He is with us in our joys and in our sorrows. And we believe that his way is the way of peace and nonviolence; and we will continue to walk in his footsteps because it is the way of life.”
Naim is one of the most courageous and outspoken people I’ve ever met. He shines with the brilliance of those wickedly bright high-beam headlights. I am a sputtering candle beside him. But still, I am a candle. And you are a candle, and you, and you, and you… and our flickering flames bring light to the darkness; nothing grandiose, but everything important. When we listen attentively to another, when we offer the gift of music, when we shovel the snow off the neighbours walk, when we offer hospitality, when we share the resources that we have been so richly blessed with, when we speak out about what we know is wrong and challenge ourselves and our leaders to live in right relationships, we are modestly but essentially shifting the energy of life. It’s about stubborn ounces of weight.
This does not refer to those hard to lose extra pounds that seem to collect around our middles during the holiday season. It’s about a poem that I read one day on the wall at the Vancouver School of Theology. It continues to inspire me when I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of a world in desperate need of compassion and peace. It goes like this:
“You say the little efforts that I make will do no good,
they will never prevail to tip the hovering scale
where justice hangs in the balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favour of my right to choose
which side shall feel
the stubborn ounces of my weight.” (author unknown)
One of the ways I try to add a little light to the darkness, is through music, and so I want to offer this song which I wrote after returning from Israel and Palestine. It alludes to that beautiful Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, but I sing it today, for all communities imprisoned by walls, by fear, by desperation. May healing come out of lament.
O Town of Bethlehem
O – Town of Bethlehem, how we see thee lie,
Caught amid your peoples’ fears –
this wall blocks out the sky
O – town of Bethlehem, how can we sleep?
As you are imprisoned, I hear your people weep.
O little town – of Beth-le-hem.
How still we see you lie.
Waiting at the mercy of our outraged cry.
If my name were Mary and I laboured at your gate,
Would my child die helpless, locked out by fear and hate?
If my name were Joseph, would there be a test?
Would you check my fam’ly name?
Would I face arrest?
O little town of Beth-le-hem, do you ask us why
We remain so silent as we watch your people die?
O town of Bethlehem, O town of Bethlehem…
Words & music by Juanita Austin- January 13th 2014