God with Us Even When We Can’t Imagine It

Nativity of Our Lord B

Sinai Sunrise

Isaiah 9:2-7

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:1-20

God’s love and the gift of hope and salvation have come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And that child has come for you. Even if you can’t believe or imagine that such a gift of grace and love belongs to you, he still comes for you.

The Good News of God and the news that we see on television, the internet, the radio, or the newspaper use very different headlines and talk about very different people. In Luke’s Gospel, he situates the story of the birth of Jesus during the reign of Emperor Augustus who can force hundreds of thousands of people to pick up their lives and travel to their hometowns for a census. He says a word and hundreds of thousands of people obey his desire. That is a person of considerable power and influence.

The news we consume follows people of great power and influence as well. We constantly see headlines about movers and shakers like Emperor Augustus. We hear about President Obama, Vladmir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Taylor Swift, and George Clooney. These are people who with just a word can influence or command thousands, if not millions of people.

We don’t see headlines about unwed, teenage mothers like Mary. We don’t see headlines about poor carpenters like Joseph. And we certainly don’t see headlines about the babies that are born to such people. This Christmas story tells us that God shows up in the most unlikely, ordinary places. More than that, God shows up in despised and shameful places. What could be more lowly than an unwed, teenage mother and her poor carpenter fianceé having a baby in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem? Continue reading

Hope and Hopelessness

Yesterday marked the 2nd anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, CT. The following is a reflection originally posted at eisenblogosphere.tumblr.com on December 19, 2012.

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In the hours after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT, I watched as bloggers and friends on Facebook added their thoughts, frustrations, and prayers one after another. Some posted prayers for healing and comfort. Some admitted that they had no words to say in the face of such tragedy. Some saw this event as a call to action.

Their messages addressed a few different ills of our society.

“We need better gun control.”

“We need better mental health treatments.”

“We need better security in public places.”

I hear that. I respect that call to action. I agree with the stances of most of what my friends and colleagues had said. Guns get out too easily, no civilian has a pressing need for a handgun with a 40-round clip, and we as a society need to care better for our most vulnerable. Those things do need to change.

But part of me feels like giving up on our own solutions.

A man a few years younger than I opened fire at children. I don’t know if there is a greater destruction of innocence. “Babies,” is what a friend of mine said, “They’re babies…”

Something broke in the gunman.

Or something broke him.

Something in this world broke him. Maybe it was in his genes. Maybe it was some hurt another person inflicted on him. Maybe it was something we can’t comprehend. But something broke him like countless others before him who have been broken. Then, he broke those adults and those children. Continue reading

Incarnation

This article was originally posted on November 30, 2012 at eisenblogosphere.tumblr.com and Tony Jones’ ProgGod

Almond Blossoms

Advent is here and the church will be celebrating the awaiting of Jesus’ arrival. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation- God has taken on human flesh and has dwelled with us on earth. God is not merely some invisible deity who casually observes the mundane and petty happenings of our world like a child observing his or her ant farm, but God “…lived among us…” (John 1:14).

Jesus Christ draws near to God’s people and fully shares in their joys and their sorrows. During his life, Jesus taught, healed, ate with others, and cried with others. Jesus’ ministry was perhaps most noticeably defined by his compassion for the poor. He called them blessed and assured them comfort from their ills, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-4; 10). Jesus himself bears the plight of the poor during his ministry. In his passion, the Son of God is “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” as his message of peace and a rejection of oppressive religious and political authorities provokes the powerful to nail him to a cross.

Christ is incarnate today with those are suffering.

Ignacio Ellacuría, a Jesuit priest and theologian living amidst the Salvadoran Civil War of the 1980s and early 1990s, passionately taught that God has promised salvation not only from death and a vague concept of “evil,” but also from historical sins such as slavery, psychological oppression, and political domination. He was eventually murdered by his county’s army in 1989 along with five other Jesuit priests at the University of Central America. He saw the suffering of his people and reflected on the life of Jesus and his identification with the suffering of this world. He then concluded that the suffering people of this world, including his Salvadoran brothers and sisters were “The Crucified People.” In their suffering, the poor and oppressed are the image of Christ in the world.

James Cone wrote God of the Oppressed in 1975 and asserted that “Jesus was black.” In the midst of great and systemic racism in the United States, Cone insisted that the Jesus who was ancestrally Jewish and abided with and suffered with Jews crushed by Roman imperialism, could also be Black if Jesus were truly present with suffering African Americans today. In the incarnate Christ, God took on the form of the oppressed people of that specific time and place in history 2000 years ago in Palestine. If Christ’s salvation is not bound by time or space, whose suffering flesh would he occupy today?

Jesus did not merely become a human being, but he became a human being who suffered under the heavy hand of oppression. God is with us in the flesh and especially directs our attention to the suffering that he embodied and that he came to save. Jesus is black, Jesus is Salvadoran, Jesus is Israeli, Jesus is Palestinian, Jesus is the bullied gay teen, Jesus is the Syrian refugee, Jesus is the suffering and oppressed of our world. Remember that Jesus entered this world taking on its flesh and that his flesh still suffers today. Pray for those who suffer, volunteer your time to serve a meal to the homeless, contribute money toward eliminating a cause of oppressive suffering, or write political leaders about your concerns about the suffering. Above all, hope. Put your hope in the one who was crucified, but was raised from the dead. Place your hope in the God who can also raise the “crucified people” from death to life.

The Incredible God

2nd Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

Artist: Shane Davis Trademark and copyright: Marvel Characters, Inc
Artist: Shane Davis
Trademark and copyright: Marvel Characters, Inc

Mild-mannered and gentle scientist, Bruce Banner, was conducting experiments using gamma radiation when an unfortunate exposure to the radiation changed his life and transformed him into… THE INCREDIBLE HULK!

Now, whenever Bruce becomes impassioned or angry he becomes an enormous, green-skinned, indestructible force of nature. Bullets bounce off of the Hulk’s green skin, he has the strength to lift a truck over his head and toss it like you or I would toss a baseball, and with a short running start, he can charge straight through layer after layer of solid concrete walls.

But when the dust settles and the Hulk settles too, he returns to his gentle, Bruce Banner self.

As I read the words from Isaiah, I cannot help but think of Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk.

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem… -Isaiah 40:1-2a

The kind Bruce Banner God whispers his wish for God’s people. This desire for comfort impassions Bruce and God begins to transform. God looks out over the horizon and sees the myriad of things that separate us from God and God’s love.

In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places  a plain. -Isaiah 40:3-4

God looks at all of those things that stand as barriers between us and God, and God gets angry. God is coming to make those paths straight, to lift up the treacherous valleys, and to destroy every looming mountain between us. When the dust settles and God reaches us, God settles down and transforms back into the gentle Bruce Banner or a nurturing shepherd. God consoles us, feeds us, carries us, gently leads us. God smashes through the walls and mountains, so God can be with us in love. Continue reading