To most people reading this, December means Advent and Christmas. Some also have birthdays, wedding anniversaries, or graduations in December. And for some, December holds sad memories, as well. Even with everything else that does or can happen in December, the last month of the year is still a time to prepare for (Advent) and celebrate (Christmas) the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Over the centuries, the Church has pounded away at one message above all others: Jesus “saves us from our sins.” While I don’t argue that, I do think that over-emphasis on an individualistic, reward-and-punishment interpretation of the Gospel can obscure—and even deny—its fundamental and profoundly transforming (i.e. saving) message: Salvation and wholeness for each of us means salvation and wholeness for ALL of us.
If and when the message of the Gospel is used to close doors, hearts, and futures, we have learned nothing. More to the point, we have been unfaithful to all that God comes to say and do for the Creation through Jesus.
In the third verse of the beloved Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,”we sing these words:
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
“Envy, strife, and discord” tear at human community and at the earth herself. And as the “Desire of Nations,” Jesus draws us together. He creates the order of community out of the fear-splintered chaos of individualism and tribalism.
We do experience and share “Heaven’s peace” of being “one [in] heart and mind,” and that does not happen by trying to make all people think just alike. It happens through all people learning to see, appreciate and to love the Christ in ourselves and in one another.
In 1985, the PC(USA) adopted a document written in 1977 and entitled A Declaration of Faith. The document was not added to our Book of Confessions, but was accepted as a “reliable aid” for the church’s preaching and teaching. That document includes this powerful passage:
The diversity in the early church caused tension and conflict. Yet the Spirit bound them into one body, enriched by their differences. We know that the same Spirit gives us a unity we cannot create or destroy.
The Spirit moves among us not to end diversity or compel uniformity, but to overcome divisiveness and bitterness.
The Spirit leads us to struggle against the lines of race and class, the ambitions of competing parties, the loyalties to individuals and traditions that divide us.
The Spirit impels us to make the unity of Christians visible to a divided world, and assures us that we shall be one. (A Declaration of Faith, Chapter 5, lines 70-87)
There has never been a time when human beings did not experience dislocating division and fear. And our time is no different. It’s just our time. So, it is our responsibility.
As Jonesborough Presbyterian Church, we are but one very small part of the Church Universal. We are, effectively, about 160 people strong. And we are as diverse as the culture around us. While that often challenges and strains us, it’s also one of the most important strengths of our congregation. The differences among us may cause us to disagree at times, and to disagree passionately, but we are still called and equipped to do amazing things. Realm of Christ things. Christmasthings. We continue to seek know, love and serve God, to make music, tell our stories, and to laugh—even if from safe distances or on Zoom. And we do these things both in spite of our diversity and in the midst of it.
When we come together in fearless honesty about whom we trust and whom we follow, we come together as one body, bound by the Holy Spirit, revealing to the world what it looks like to be a place of Advent and Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter.
It is never easy, but it is always holy.
A Blessed Christmas to You All,