Rev. John M. Hayes
I heard the bells on Xmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
That old song was written in a terrible time, three horrific years into the American civil war by the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, whose own young son was brought home from battle with a destroyed body and a deranged mind.
We also are living in a dark time and there are few signs of hope on the horizon. The edges of the predictable and predicted ecological crisis are now all too familiar to peoples in the Caribbean and the American southern coastlands. Fires rage in the hills of Southern California as we speak, and starving polar bears wander in confusion and wonder where all the ice has gone?
Did I mention that nuclear war is hanging in the wings? Our conflict with North Korea continues to heat up, as provocations are exchanged.
Can there be anyone left who doubts that our political system is broken? Our country is hopelessly divided and alienated across party lines. The year concludes with our esteemed president signing into law a tax bill that effects a loot of our treasury and makes our economy even more outrageously unjust. Some are just beginning to see that our democracy is becoming an oligarchy.
Here in our fair city we had more homicides than ever before and no sign that the root causes of violence will be addressed. Prisons are now a privatized growth industry, while our Secretary of Education, the former queen of Amway, proceeds to dismantle public education. It is becoming nakedly clear that the powers of this world believe in disposable communities and disposable people. And hasn’t that always been true?
Here is our little community of St. Luke’s there has been much heartbreak and loss this year. And God knows every family has its share of private conflict, loss and pain. And no person is completely at peace. In the depths of every human heart there rages anger, hurt, envy, and the vestiges of old trauma, loss and grief.
Peace on earth, good will to men, really? Tell me when is that going to happen exactly. Isn’t there every reason to be cynical about Christmas?
We might well think: what difference did this birth some 2,000 years ago make? What’s with all the fol-der-al? Face reality: we are in a bigger mess than ever before. If God supposedly did something in the distant past it clearly made no real difference.
Wait. Maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe we have to turn the story upside down to get it.
See the image of the child born to poor parents, throwaway people in a backwater, throwaway place, and angels greeting shepherds, men with no status or security, announcing the breaking in of God’s kingdom into this sorry, sorry world.
See this is not a story of the distant past but of God’s future, of God’s dream for humanity, God’s promise of humanity’s future.
Jesus is not a figure from the past. Jesus is the very newest thing. Jesus comes to us now – from God’s future. Jesus comes to us now as the completely new human. Jesus comes to us now from God’s future as the completely non-violent one, who refuses all power-over, all the scapegoating, and all plotting, scheming and grasping that make this world a seemingly hopeless mess.
Jesus’ only power is truth and the self-emptying love that is God’s very nature. Jesus comes now as the human face of the Holy One that loves sorry humankind when there is every reason to despair, and loves humankind extravagantly, senselessly and faithfully. God does not give up on us. Jesus comes to us now to lead us into the future God dreams for humanity – a future of God’s kingdom realized where finally peace, love and truth govern human life and humankind becomes at last truly and authentically human.
As much as God comes to meet us in Jesus, God also dwells in the depths of the human psyche impelling us to recognize and see God’s coming.
The Gospel proclaims that to see Jesus is to see God, and to know Jesus is to know God. This seeing and knowing are of course not ordinary seeing and knowing, but that which comes with intuition and imagination formed by the Holy Spirit’s most often unseen and unknown movements in the depths of the human psyche, opening our spiritual sight to God’s presence and our mind to true and deepened knowledge of God. Seeing and knowing God in Jesus makes us more the true and authentic person we are meant to be.
The God of human invention is the projection of human power fantasies. It has been said that God created humans in God’s image and they are forever attempting to return the favor. Jesus is the corrective to that dead end, being the antithesis of human expectation, the human of God’s future whose power is only the power of truth, vulnerability and love.
This Jesus encounters us in Scripture, in the Eucharist, and in the beloved community and in those who he loved most in this world, the throwaway folks, the poor and disenfranchised, the sick, the imprisoned, the powerless and vulnerable.
This encounter with Christ demands a change, a re-orientation of our life. Christ calls us to a life of discipleship, to commitment to following the Gospel way, to attentively and obediently discerning his will in our lives so that we live not for ourselves but for others, and so that we find our own particular way to heal our sad and broken world. This is the way we realize our true humanity. We are meant for nothing less.
The priest and prophet Daniel Berrigan wrote these words in another dark and greatly troubled time:
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Christmas in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world, born some 2000 years ago this night, but also born now this very moment in every human heart that makes room to receive him.