by Ed Bacon
“Hope in the Darkness”
“In those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” That of course is the frame St. Luke puts around his version of Jesus’s birth.
Many events in our religious narrative give reference to the cultural or political contexts for God’s Story of grace and love. That is because our theology speaks to real life concerns — what actually obstructs abundant life for all. In telling the Christmas story framed by what was going on culturally and politically, writers of scripture are claiming that God’s grace and love impact our daily lives and bring hope even to our darkest, most intractable problems.
At this mid-point in Advent, I will remember this season of waiting for Christmas in part as the year two police officers who killed unarmed African-Americans were not indicted. This Advent, in the words of a Southern Baptist evangelical spokesman, we as a nation have been reminded that, “African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, in this country are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed.” Or to quote Harvard’s Minister, “This is the logic of white supremacy at work… white supremacy is a logic… that regards white life as more valuable than non-white life.”
“Black lives matter,” is being chanted in the streets of major U.S. cities. Basketball superstars are warming up for NBA games with T-shirts that read, “I can’t breathe.” That is what Eric Garner repeated 11 times as the police officer used an illegal choke-hold to kill him.
Our story says that God wants us to make love tangible and thus change life-as-it-is to life-as-it-should-be. And we can do it when we embody God as Jesus did.
Two recent Rector’s Forum speakers used different words to describe the same hope-filled message about transforming threats to human dignity and survival.
Greg Boyle whose gang-intervention work successfully combats dehumanization and demonization on a daily basis, said, “God is too busy loving us to be disappointed in us. The truth of God’s love is that God’s love helps us. If the world knew and felt the tenderness of God then we would naturally solve hunger, disarm ourselves, and include people. I think that’s the way it works. What we really have is a God who loves us and who invites us to be tender with each other.”
Tom Steyer who, with his wife has pledged with Warren Buffet to give away more than 50% of their resources, is working to reverse the degradation of the planet. He said last Sunday in the Forum about doing something about global warming, “In life, look for opportunities to hook into the positive life force in the world. Some call that positive force, ‘God.’”
The Hope in the Darkness is our ability to hook into God’s work in the world, to be tender with one another, to belong to one another.
Spoiler alert: the story at the end of this Advent waiting is that God comes not as a conquering, dominating hero. God enters the world as a gentle, tender, disarming infant, who as he became an adult was so disarmingly tender, unwaveringly loving, and fiercely defending of the divinity of every human being, that all who trust in this way can hook into the Spirit of God and fight effectively against all “those forces, friends and enemies, who seek to prevent us from seeing the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls.” (Rabbi Leonard Beerman)
That is where we are headed — not where one group is seen as more valuable than another but that every person and group has dignity and is respected.