All of creation is connected. The Bible is full of images from creation that reveal our relationship with God. Jeremiah contrasts a desert shrub with a well-watered tree to depict depending on mere mortals versus depending on God. We can, however, turn that image on its head, and use the desert shrub as a powerful image of trusting in God during times of adversity. The blessings and woes in Jesus’ “sermon on the plain,” with their stark contrasts between poor—rich, hungry—full, weeping—laughing, rejected—accepted, teach us that God meets us at the edge of human possibility.
A vision of the holiness and mystery of God brings Isaiah to a recognition of his own sinfulness. The same is true for Peter when, following Jesus’ command, he casts his nets and captures a huge haul of fish. As Americans, we are also confronted with the violence, racism, affluence, and individualism in our culture. This, however, is not the end of the story because God does not abandon us, desires our healing, and calls us to cast our nets.
During our national controversy over immigration, our sisters and brothers can stretch our hearts and imaginations to the plight of refugees and what it means to welcome immigrants. Likewise, the Gospel story of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth is a powerful lesson on how we can react violently against those who are guilty of nothing more than speaking the truth in love. When we fail to provide welcome at the table, God’s Spirit chooses to work elsewhere.
The birth of a child is a tender, precarious, and magic moment. I love the way this and the care for children is dramatized in the BBC TV series “Call the Midwife.” Jesus’ birth, and the caring life he lived, is the beating heart of Christian faith. This is God’s love revealed. It’s at the heart of every congregation that seeks to live out such love revealed.
Holiday cheer can be forced and turn a blind eye to the suffering in our lives and in our world. But, according to pastor Barbara Gerlach, “There is another joy—deeper than the good times and bad times that life metes out, stronger than our best attempts and sorest failings—a joy that lifts us when we cannot lift ourselves.” This is the kind of joy expressed by Isaiah and Paul. Such joy is my wish for us and our church during this Christmas season and beyond.