Maybe I’m watching too much news. Maybe I’m not watching enough. Maybe I’m paying a little too close attention to the events around me. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention. I’m definitely not doing enough. I’m anxious. I worry. And if I’m truly honest with myself, I’m a bit fearful. Ok, I’m more than a “bit” fearful.
Sarah wrote a great blog last week about Mary’s decision to let go and follow God. Even though Mary didn’t quite understand, was worried and apprehensive, she still put her trust in God. This is the beautiful season of advent – preparing for the birth of Jesus. (For real, this is one of THE biggest events in Christianity. Imagine being told you’re going to meet your favorite celeb. Think about how you’d prepare for that meeting. What would you wear, what would you say, can you do it without fangirling out but still make a lasting impression, will they like you, what if you become friends, omg omg omg. Ok, so preparing for the birth of Jesus is a little different. But hold on to that excitement. That’s the shared experience here.) So this time of year is supposed to be joyful and exciting and light and all the feel-good warmth and hot chocolate with marshmallow sweetness of “the most wonderful time of the year.” Right? At least that’s what I’m told. This year, I’m sort of experiencing all of those things, but they’re mostly whispers. My anxiety is speaking louder. I’m doing my best to keep the season alive for my young children, but in the evening when they’re in bed I check out the news and I’m saddened about this world they’re growing up in:
Fear. Hate. Anger. Divisiveness. Racism. Bigotry. Aggression. Terrorism. Lies. Selfishness. Vengeance. Shootings. Loss. Grief. Death…
In Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People, Lutheran minister, Nadia Bolz-Weber (See her picture at the end of the post. I’m pretty sure I’d fangirl out if I met her.) retells the original Christmas story in a way I’d never heard before. It was “a story of alienation, political tyranny, homelessness, working-class people, pagans, and angels…. [The leader, king Herod is a] scheming, frightened, insecure troglodyte who puts a hit out on a toddler…. The story reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be…. We often behave as though Jesus is only interested in saving and loving a romanticized version of ourselves or an idealized version of our mess of a world, and so we offer to him a version of our best selves…perhaps so we can escape the Herod in ourselves and in the world around us…. The story of Christmas is as much about comfort and joy as it is about how messed up our world actually is.”
Ok, I’m with you. Our world is definitely messed up. (If I’m totally honest, I don’t care to think about the Herod in me.) So, where’s the comfort and joy?
This week, Jenn Killpack (Spec Director, extraordinaire) sent out another take on the season from Bolz-Weber from a recent sermon, “Bullies, Terrorists and Anxiety: A Sermon on Defiant Hope.” You can find an audio to the sermon and the transcript at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2015/12/bullies-terrorists-and-anxiety-a-sermon-on-defiant-hope/ Here is an excerpt:
“As a society our anxiety is at a fevered pitch as the powers and principalities rage around us.
And yet…it’s Advent. A time when we are supposed to be finding hope and peace.
So in the cacophony of other messages from the rulers of this world…in the midst of this, I wonder if maybe we are quiet and tilt our heads a certain direction, if we can again hear the word of the Lord – who skips over all that crap and comes instead in the promises from John the Baptist saying ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
That’s right – not ‘all shall see tyranny’ or ‘all shall see terror’ but all shall see the salvation of God.
I want to claim that promise as our own. But it’s so hard right now….
So if you too are anxious and can not pray maybe we can all take a note from an Advent message from Brother Curtis of the Society of St John the Evangelist: who suggests that maybe what we can do is to pray for the conversion of our anxiety. Because, he says, when anxiety is converted, you know what it becomes? It becomes hope…If you have anxiety now, you are almost hopeful. You’re like, superclose.
So here’s a word from the Lord to an anxious people praying for the conversion of our anxiety: Here is what pushed me that tiny distance between anxiety and hope this week. It was when I realized this:
You know that list of powerful men at the beginning of our reading? You know, the ones whose power at the time must have seemed insurmountable? – the names of these emperors and rulers and governors and power brokers who were so feared and powerful at the time- you know what? The only reason anyone knows their names…the only reason anyone even says their names – the only reason these tiny, pathetic so-called powerful men are even remembered at all 2,000 years later is as a footnote to Jesus of Nazareth. Those who were caught up into the powers and principalities of violence and empire and greed – whose power at the time they were alive felt so absolute– are only a footnote to Jesus. Jesus – the prince of peace, the man of sorrows, the friend of sinners, the forgiver of enemies.
So my prayer this week when I just didn’t know what to pray was simple. I named every single thing and person that seems so powerful right now as to feel inescapable – rulers, tyrants, my own sins, societal forces etc. and I named them and then said ‘footnote’.
Pontias Pilate – footnote
The Islamic state – footnote
My own participation in the things I say I don’t believe in – footnote
The gun lobby – footnote
Your depression – footnote
Your boss – footnote
Student Loans – footnote
Xenophobic violence – footnote
Don’t mistake me – all of these things are very real and the horrible effect they have on us and on the world is also very real. But in the big picture I defiantly believe that God can redeem it. All of it. Our God will be victorious turning swords into plough-shares and anxiety into hope. I will cling to the promise that ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
What feelings, big or small, are preventing you from living hope, love, joy and peace?
Take a moment to list them out as Bolz-Weber did and next to them give them their proper label – footnote. (Feel free to list out some of those in the comments section or on our Spec Facebook page.)
Let the idea of “footnote” sink in.
Defiantly let God redeem all of it!
Know that in the world you and I and my kids are living in, there is hope. Love. Joy. Peace.
Know the promises from John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall me made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
My hope for you is that you reflect upon how the Christmas story relates to what is happening around us today. May you find comfort and peace in that. May you know the excitement of Advent. May your anxiety morph to hope. May the rest of this year and all of next be full of God redeeming your footnotes.
Nadia Bolz-Weber (Alex Baker Photography http://www.christiantoday.com)