Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas 2012

                 Hardly know where to place the focus this year. Bad news stories landing in our awareness like exploding grenades - oh boy, there is an apt image.

                Before Newtown and before Rochester and before the NRA calling for the arming of teachers (I am waiting for their call to arm firefighters), and before the government of Canada again quietly playing into the hands of the gun lobby by eliminating regulations for gun shows in Canada, what was coming into focus for me was the visit of  Mary to Elizabeth.  

                What a peculiar contrast.

                I know. You pretty much cannot think of all that at the same time. They parts don't work together.

                The reason for the focus on Mary and Elizabeth started out being the preaching schedule at St. Paul's: I was on for the 4th Sunday of Advent. Read Luke's account, and was quite taken with it. I could imagine two cousins, both pregnant, greeting each other with affection. This year the image of Mary bringing the news of Jesus to the world was tweaked in my mind just a little, to focus on Jesus being received by the world - represented by Elizabeth. And just as Mary is the model Reed of God (title of Carryl Houselander's 1944 book) who emptied herself to be the reed through which the Piper's breathe, unobstructed, made beautiful music, so the world - us - really needs to make space for Jesus to be born in our hearts.

                The image is so compelling to me. It changes the focus from the pathetic struggle we - I, anyhow - sometimes put forth to deal with sin, and instead concentrates on making room. I like that, it works. Because it focuses so much better on the relationship we have with Christ. When I care about someone and they are coming to visit, I make sure nothing gets in the way of that visit. When I really love someone, I do my very best to open my heart as wide as possible for everything about them to have a place inside me. When you are crazy about someone, that is what you do. You don't have to convince anyone about that, right?

                The image sticks in my mind. And things immediately get complicated. Because there are all the bad news stories, the heartbreaks that occupy all kinds of room in my mind.

                I think about that. How does it work, then? I realize that the space Jesus comes into is our everyday life with everything in it - good and bad, no exceptions, otherwise his birth, his death, and his resurrection are a collective joke. What crowds Jesus out are not those events but our giving them pre-eminent place. When you think of it that way, anything can crowd Jesus out, even the good things in our life, if they continue to be all about us.

                No, we make space for Jesus to be born when we acknowledge the brokeness of the world we live in and then with honesty and humility, invite him into that space. The events are no longer all about us and our fears, our possessiveness, our despair. They are about the relationship we have with him. The act of handing them over to that relationship transforms the space and makes the room he needs  in order to be born within us, in order to guide and animate everything we do.

                I think the clincher is that when you invite in someone you love like that, it does not stop there. You keep on making more and more room for them to be in your life. Great image for our relationship with Christ I think.

                And so I hand over the bad news to him also. Ask him to come and heal the world and show me what part I should play in it. And while we are talking, I ask him to do the same for our countries, Canada and the U.S., both founded with deference to God, but both rapidly withdrawing that deference and crowding out the room God needs. Pray that people will see the impossibility of figuring this all out on their own. Pray for God to be received with anything close to the joy that Elizabeth had when he came into her presence.