John 15:9-17 – Jesus said to the disciples, “I've loved you the way my Abba God has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love. That's what I've done – kept my Abba God's commands and made myself at home in Abba's love. I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I am no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I have heard from my Abba God. You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask my Abba God in relation to me, you will receive it. But remember this root command: love one another.”
Luke 2:8-14, 17-20 -- There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don't be afraid! I am here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is the Messiah. This is what you're looking for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all women and men on earth who please God.
The shepherds left and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child…. Mary kept all these to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!
Does it strike you as odd that we serve a God who changed centuries of chosenness into an eternity of full inclusion; odd that God, among the pantheon of deities, would not choose Greek theatrics – warriors and sirens and javelin-like bolts from the hands of a supernatural being and things like that – instead entering this drama as an infant; odd that God, being God, would say “You are my friends not my servants or slaves – how un-god-like, you know what I mean; and odd that God, without dismissing or diminishing what makes each person and culture distinctive, would inspire one of the Bible's best narrators to help us transcend all of our luscious diversities and uniquenesses – male and female, free and not, rich - poor – and - middle, Jew and Gentile, “gay” and straight, adult and child, racially this, nationality that, you get the point – so that we can see the entire human family through the eyes of Christ? How un-god-like to expect us to love one another as God's messenger loves us: sacrificial and generous, insightful and wise, gracious and serene, just and peaceful; and suffering and forgiveness held in tension, and always intending our wholeness and fulfillment.
Particularly in holy seasons, I find myself coming back to that line in Luke's Gospel when, after hearing independent confirmation of miraculous things about her infant son –views not to be dismissed as post-partum euphoria – Mary held dear all those tidbits, held them dear and thought on them deep within herself. As Mary, I return again and again to all the odd things of God, holding them quietly and inquisitively within myself – except when I'm preaching them – and mysteriously, each return connects me in fresh, delightful, and often perplexing ways to the essential nature of God; draws me into the core of awe and wonder, and to the challenge of living into the Christ-Love that I so admire in Jesus.
You might find it a delight to create your own version of Mary's holding dearly and thinking deeply on such things. In any holy season or every day you can create 15-minute meditations or 60-second spiritual tweets throughout the day – let the gong tone on your cell phone summon you to your 15 for meditation or your 60-second spiritual tweet retreats. Try holding a period of study or 10 minutes of reading odd and mysterious passages of Scripture so you can ask of yourself, “what challenges me when I read this narrative” and ponder the question, “what may I learn about myself and Christ?” The main idea here is the holding, dear and deep within yourself; everything else flows from the holding and is its own rich rewards: a surprising “ah-ha” and sacred intimacies.
For example, how would you hold it if it strikes you as odd that God would declare love and peace for everyone? You'd have to hold the challenge within you of what it means to love and wish peace for those you do not know, cannot or do not love, and to aim your peace toward those who are not peaceful. If God can do it why shouldn't we? A thought: perhaps the decision point leading to the Jesus event was God's awareness of the hard time God was having holding heart-space and the energy of peace for certain people. Today, we can imagine God's anger for every terrorist or criminal animus and act, and God's disappointment with hurtful or unkind deeds and words; we can imagine it because we, too, can hold those exact feelings. The thing of it is, with God such feelings lead to an infinite yearning for a transformation of mind and soul, while what we hold is often reactive, vengeful, or void of peace. So, when we hold the “Great and joyous event meant for everybody, worldwide,” God's gift of love and peace for all, we're challenged to look inward at what in us is unloving and non-peaceful, and then work to grow into Christ-Love.
An implication of Advent greater than we might dare to imagine summons us to a maturity beyond that old way of thinking of “us vs. them.” Advent is not just the season of God's physical, human presence but of God's solidarity with every human being – Christ was and is God's personal Christmas gift with a card reading, Be strong, you're not alone, you and I, we're in this life together regardless of what fate delivers. God's solidarity with us morphs into our solidarity and presence with others in a quest for love and peace. Though it starts at Christmas, it's a love and peace that permeates our daily relationships, work, hopes, dreams, charity, struggles, joys, and how we hold our enemies, competitors, and adversaries. This solidarity works for the well-being and faith-full fulfillment of all: showing up and being present, going the distance, “us-with- them” no longer “us-vs.-them.” That is the odd way God's Christians hold life and being.
One last inquiry for the First Sunday of Advent: from the angels and shepherds in Luke's narrative, how do we respond when out of nowhere or magically from everywhere our souls experience a tidal surge of inexplicable joy, boundless gratitude, liberated generosity, uncontainable love, a deep and unbidden serenity, a moment of beauty and unity with Creator and all of Creation? The angels and shepherds teach us the vital lesson of “Don't just do something, stand there!” BeHold it and hold it in awe and wonder and thankfulness; then your True Self will know what to do: shout or dance your gratitude, sing with the angel, “Glory to God in the highest,” get it on like those shepherds, “glorifying and praising God for everything!” On this first Sunday of Advent, may God bless your preparations for the Christ event!
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