Everything Matters: An Advent Reflection

Each Advent we again reflect on how Jesus came to be with us. This world seems to be an undifferentiated heap of chaos. Truth gives way to base opinion. Reason and morality succumb to power. Any gains of human generosity pale in comparison to the equally human destruction that is tearing Aleppo to shreds. We celebrate technological advances allowing us to move people and goods faster and farther, but these same advances have sped up the harm of our planet and made human trafficking easier. We can choose to ignore the turmoil in order to function, dulling our confusion with the glitz of the season. Or we might stare at the violence so long we lose hope. The search for meaning seems fleeting or delusional. In the midst of this existence, which appears at worst deranged and at best absurd, we celebrate Jesus’s birth.

Jesus did not arrive as a grown man or as a resplendent king at the peak of power. He came as a poor infant, born to parents who lived in a land occupied by an oppressive empire. They would have to escape a violent tyrant and seek refuge in a foreign land. Jesus shared our experience. He ate, slept, learned, celebrated, mourned, matured, worked, rested, prayed, and died. Jesus’s very life affirms our existence.

Christians believe that God will one day make the world anew. On that day everything will be completely right and just. Violence, evil, sin, and death will cease to exist. It is telling that Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem was not that moment in which chaos is destroyed and order fully established. His life, ministry, and resurrection inaugurate this new creation, but it has yet to arrive completely.

What are we to make of Jesus entering into our mess? The simple answer, I believe, is this: everything matters. (Admittedly this belief often feels like a weak conviction, a hope against hope.) All stages of life ultimately matter. Through Jesus, God gives human existence a stamp of approval. Jesus was a zygote, infant, toddler, youth, and adult. His eating, sleeping, learning, celebrating, mourning, maturing, working, resting, praying, and dying all mattered. His incarnation and resurrection affirms that none of what we may see as absurd randomness is truly meaningless.

God embraces our joy, hope, and even pain. The consolation we experience may not reconcile the evil and beauty we see. We may never receive the answers for why we endure terrible loss. But comfort comes to us in the fact of knowing God incarnate came to be with us as an infant, residing with us in our powerlessness. The God of the universe has experienced our confusion. Jesus saw firsthand the heap of chaos comprising our successes and failures, convictions and doubts, hopes and fears, beauty and ugliness. Jesus saw this heap and redeemed it. As Jesus tells his disciples after feeding the five thousand, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” (John 6.12) This Advent and Christmas, may you see God also inviting you to gather up the fragments around you, so that nothing may be lost.

Jesus is here!

God is with us!

Everything matters!

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Christmas Cards of the Real Mary

My friend, Carol Joy Lutz, recently delivered a wonderful sermon, “Wisdom from a Teenager: Lessons from Mary.” She reveres Mary for her faith and courage while avoiding sentimentalizing Mary to the point that she no longer resembles the thoughtful young woman we meet in the Bible. In the sermon Carol suggests what Christmas cards could look like if they truly honored the challenges Mary faced because God blessed her with being the mother of Jesus.

I loved Carol’s more honest and raw Christmas greetings that respect the story of a young, pregnant, unwed virgin, whose son will be betrayed and unjustly executed. I decided to make mock-ups of these cards.

These cards might shock people. I do not intend to make light of or diminish the difficulties and tragedies Mary and other parents who share her experiences have endured. My hope is that the surprising words of these cards will prompt reflection on the costs of Mary’s discipleship. I wanted to play up the incongruities between the staid imagery of Jesus’ mother and Carol’s sobering, earthy descriptions of Mary’s experience.

Mary was truly blessed, but let us remember the Bible defines blessing differently than we do. We often confuse being blessed with having an easy life, which is hardly ever the case for the people in the Bible who receive God’s blessing, especially Mary.

As Carol says, “Life is not all neat and tidy, like a dime store Christmas card. Here are some Christmas card sentiments you’ll never find at Hallmark:”

Stinky Manger Christmas Card

Foul-Mouthed Shepherds Christmas Card

Filled with Doubt Christmas Card

I’ll give Carol the final word:

Can we be like Mary? Taking time and care to unclench our jaw, to uncross our arms, to be open to what gifts God wants to give us, even if they may be disguised as suffering?

Can we say a prayer of gratitude in the midst of the struggle, knowing that God can redeem the worst pile of mess in our lives?

Is there something that God wants to birth in you that may have a very long gestation, that may even have a long, painful delivery, but that could bring light to this broken world?