Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Journey

By Rev. Mike Bealla, Director of Connectional Ministries

I’m setting aside my usual resourcing-focused article for this issue of the LINK in lieu of a slightly more timely and theological reflection upon the celebration of Advent and Christmas. In my pastoral history I have shared with my congregations that Advent is a time of experiencing the world in its darkness awaiting the light of Christ. It occurs to me that our world finds itself in a very dark place at this moment of history.

Along with the annual din of the Black Friday frenzy extended over to Cyber Monday, Tuesday, and so on, as part of the pre-Christmas shopping madness, come the reports of terrorism, anti-Muslim sentiments, and stories of refugees fleeing from horrific situations. A sense of fear seems to be growing all around us. Sadly, such fear often leads to the need to blame someone for the current situation and can lead some in power to irrational decision making.

As I pondered this darkness invading our lives I realized that in many ways our world is eerily similar to the world that longed for a savior to be born. The birth story in the Gospels is clearly written in the face of political power and an occupying empire. It is a story proclaiming God’s breaking into human history in a way that makes the powers that be look foolish. A story of an unmarried teen about to become a mother, a nervous, earthly carpenter confused by his situation, shepherds minding their flocks suddenly hearing a heavenly choir, and a king fearful of what a homeless child might mean for his political future.

In the midst of all of this fear, confusion, and intrigue comes the message, “Do not be afraid!” These are the words Joseph hears in Matthew’s Gospel as he wonders what to do with Mary’s pregnancy. (Matthew 1:20) “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” They are the same words Mary hears the angel proclaim in Luke 2:10, “and the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!’” Even the shepherds hear these words as they looked skyward on that birth night, “Do not be afraid … for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.”

As people of faith we are told some 365 times in the Scriptures in some form to not be afraid. For us, faith is the opposite of fear. Fear only has power when our faith takes a back seat and lets fear control our lives. How wonderful it is to realize that the birth of this child of Bethlehem is God’s gift of salvation to all people. It is God coming in the flesh to live among us so that we can experience the very depth of the ultimately powerful One who loves us so much, nothing can separate us from God’s love. No darkness, not even the threat of death itself can take away the gift of love that comes to us anew during this season. And in the midst of all the chaos, the threat of terrorism, the violence of hatred, the flexing of political powers, and refugee families (of which Jesus’ family was one too) … nothing … nothing at all stands between God and God’s people who God came to earth to remove our fear and plant in us the gift of faith.

May this Christmas be a deeply spiritual time when more than ever before each of us faithfully reflects the love of God in our lives — it is a gift perfect for re-gifting — that God’s world might be transformed by the power of God’s gift of Jesus Christ in and through us!

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