There has been a war waging inside the rotunda of the Florida state capitol building. It began when a group calling themselves, "The Florida Nativity Scene Committee" put up a creche. This raised the ire of atheists of all stripes. So, then we had a placard from the American Atheists Association placed next to the creche, declaring that such things as "hot chocolate and lights" are "the reason for Xmas." (Please don't tell them that Xmas is still a Christian Christmas greeting.) Then there was the Freedom from Religion group which sponsored a festivus pole of 16 Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans. This was followed by the Pastafarians wanting a display of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and so a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is on display. The state Department of Management Services finally reached the end of its rope when the Satanists asked to put up a depiction of Satan being cast down from Heaven. Their request was denied as "offensive to the holiday season." Please get your seats now for the sure-to-come lawsuit.
Facebook, and other social media, has been all a-flutter over the racist and homophobic remarks of a cast member from the reality TV show, "Duck Dynasty." As with what happened during the last presidential campaign, LGBTQI people have been horrified to read comments from our supposed friends, defending the right of this man to make demeaning comments which he defends by quoting a Bible verse that suits his needs and from a translation that backs his bigotry. Again, there are those who maintain that his "Christian values" are under attack because the A&E Network has suspended him, and they accuse his detractors of being "whiny homosexuals." Of course, the "whiny homosexuals" probably irritated those same alleged friends when they posted that two more states--New Mexico and Utah--joined the roll call of places where marriage equality is legal.
Last night, hundreds of communities marked the winter solstice with a "Longest Night Celebration" where there were remembrances of those who died homeless in a country of plenty.
So, here we are at the Fourth Sunday in Advent, to hear the evangelist Matthew tell us: "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way." We listen to the story, the difficult dilemma of Joseph and his now pregnant girlfriend, and how it was through a dream that he was told this was all the fulfillment of the words from the Isaiah passage also read on this day: Therefore The Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel, which we learn means "God is with us." And so this is the world, the situtation, the circumstances into which our God and Savior now draws near.
I imagine that as we listen to these readings, and take in the story of Jesus' birth, it is easy for us to hear it as an ancient tale and one that is completely remote and removed from our 21st century lives. It is, after all, a birth that will happen in a stable amongst farm animals, and there are shepherds tending flocks of sheep and wise men traversing from somewhere in Asia to find this baby boy. There are kings, and Roman governors, and people eating locusts and wild honey. This is First century Palestine; a pre-internet, pre-automobile, and before the invention of agri-business. And it is very easy for us to listen to all of this as if it was a by-gone era. But is it really? As we move closer and closer to that moment on Christmas Eve when we burst into song that "Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let Earth receive her king!", we might consider that "the world" in which Christ entered back in the First century was as rife with division and hurt as our current world is today. Different types of division, but still a world where Jews wouldn't associate with Samaritans and Romans had the authority and lorded their power over everyone. Think of how that plays out in today's world with factions claiming space around the Great Seal in the state capitol rotunda in a way that hardly models a spirit of Love, and the have-nots of our society walk in the shadows of buildings where the haves are amassing more millions for themselves. If there is ever a time when we could stand to have Christ come crashing into our world, now seems a pretty good time.
OK, but how does Christ come into the world? Do I literally think that Jesus Christ gets born again? No, obviously, that's not how I see it. The coming of Christ's return is not a literal birth of a baby; it is however the literal change of our own hearts and our own direction and approach to the world. In essence, we become like Mary in that we give birth to a new way of how we will deal with people and our planet, and like Joseph, we follow the direction of the spirit and cultivate this change in ourselves. This new outlook will get challenged because as much as we might change, those things that attempt to tear us down and split us apart aren't going away either. There will still be reality TV stars who say hurtful and nasty things to gain publicity. Homelessness isn't going to go away and neither will the natterings about wars on Christmas. But how we respond to all of that can and will be different if we parent and nurture the Christ within us, the God who is with us.
The psalmist's refrain of "Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we will be saved," takes on a special meaning as we commence with lighting that fourth Advent candle. This light is the light of Christ's return into our hearts to restore, refresh, and renew how we engage each other and our world. O come let us adore... and adopt... this new way of being in our lives.