Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
The Season of Advent has always been for me a time for both deep reflection and eager anticipation. The Advent themes of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace provide weekly opportunities for Christians to prepare our whole selves (body, mind, and spirit) for fulfillment of the promise that Christ will come at Christmas.
The second week of Advent invites us to reflect upon Love. Love given and love received. Many of us experience love most profoundly in and through our bodies, and so we reflect now on the body in its physical rather than its emotional form.
I am very aware of my physical body. I know how my body feels to me — every nerve, muscle, and organ. I do not know how the various bits and pieces of the body actually work, yet I am grateful for the fact that my body still functions in a way that supports my intention to live a quality life for as long as I can. Though it was not always true for me, I can say today that I love my body and that my body loves me.
At the same time, my mind keeps me aware that this body is living in interesting times. Experiencing love in a body is not all about the body giving or receiving “love and light” all of the time. The world is far too complex for such simplistic thinking.
For instance, I am an American-born 66-year-old same-gender-loving Christian woman of African, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Irish descent moving in the world as a spiritual leader among a diverse global community. The skin covering this older intercultural powerful lesbian body is Black. As such, it holds the cellular memory of what it has long meant to be Black in America. At the same time, I know that the color of my skin alone does not define all of me. Indeed, I recognize that this Black body occupies some positions of power and privilege.
In my spirit, I know that I am not alone in having an awareness of such individual complexity. Many people have a first-hand experience of what it is to live as the victim of someone else’s bias and also what it is to be biased against and to victimize others. A lot of people know what it is to be told in subtle and blatant ways that our lives do not matter; we also know that we do things to show that we devalue another’s life. Every day, many of us pray for the extra portion of grace that is required to survive when you are the embodiment of other people’s fears even as we pray for protection from those that we fear.
|(Photo: Twitter @rebeccarivas)|
We are all in this complex life together — queers, straight folks, women, and children; native peoples and immigrants; peoples of color and white people; people with disabilities, people of all nations, people of different faiths and of no faith at all; the rich and poor, the elderly and those who are ill; those of all colors, beliefs, and persuasions. It does not matter who we are, how our bodies appear, or the level or cause of our fears. Each of us is called to figure out how to love ourselves and one another.
We must figure this thing out. Indeed, the very survival of humanity requires that we gain comfort through our co-existence as God’s beloved people. What might such comfort look like? To me, comfort looks a whole lot like justice and mercy, justice that is freely given and mercy that is not denied. The kind of comfort of which I speak comes from reconciliation, not retribution. It comes out of desire, not demand. As for me, I look forward with eager anticipation to the day when all God’s people will live in such comfort in body, mind, and spirit.
Though some people cannot get along today, the good news for all of us is in knowing that our world and the quality of our relationships with one another really can get better. Actually, Christ comes just a little closer each time we choose to reject fear and instead embrace Advent’s promise of hope, love, joy, and peace prevailing among God’s people. That is all we need for Christmas. May it be so!
“¡Ojalá rasgases el cielo y bajases!”
“Velen, pues no saben cuándo vendrá el dueño de la casa.”
Si revisamos la situación que los Judíos enfrentaron en tiempos de Isaías después de la cruel experiencia del exilio, y los grandes retos que tenían frente a ellos, podemos fácilmente comprender sus sentimientos sobrecogidos. Nosotros, justo ahora en el siglo XXI, no tenemos una vida muy diferente a la relatada por el texto. Así como ellos, tenemos dos opciones: simplemente aceptar con resignación las cosas como son y sobrevivir recordando los buenos tiempos de antaño, o podemos aprovechar este momento como una gran oportunidad para cambiar nuestra realidad y nuestro futuro, en este presente incierto y volátil.
Como comunidad Cristiana, estamos entrando en el tiempo de Adviento, o Pequeña Cuaresma, como solían llamarle nuestro antepasados en la fe. En nuestras manos, tenemos la oportunidad una vez más, de transformarnos al transformar el mundo.
Es muy claro, pienso, que nuestro mundo se encuentra en una desesperada necesidad de transformación mientras somos testigos de la locura que nuestro mundo está experimentando. Guerra en algunos países (Ucrania, etc.); devastaciones en otros lugares (el calentamiento global nos está retando a hacer algo); confrontaciones en muchas ciudades (Ferguson, etc.), la terrible realidad en mi país (México) con miles de desaparecidos entre ellos los 43 estudiantes; crímenes de odio y el Ébola y otras enfermedades que afectan a multitudes.
La realidad de nuestro mundo complejo, puede sobrecoger a cualquiera, pero quiero recordar las palabras de Gerhard Ebeling quien escribió, “lo más real de lo real, no es la realidad misma, sino sus posibilidades“. Y como soñador que soy, y con nuestro bagaje humano y cristiano, debemos enfocar nuestros esfuerzos en las posibilidades que están reclamando nuestro compromiso a la trasformación. Creo firmemente que no todo está perdido.
Dios necesita nuestras manos, nuestros pies, nuestros corazones, nuestras mentes para hacer posible la transformación en este mundo. No es suficiente orar por esto. Hoy más que nunca el Rev. Troy Perry, nuestro fundador, tiene razón cuando dice: “algunas oraciones necesitan de nuestros pies.”
Hoy más que nunca, necesitamos “¡estar alertas!” con nuestros ojos y corazones, atentos al futuro que queremos dejar a las personas que vienen después de nosotros. Debemos ser conscientes del futuro que estamos dejándoles, que está directamente relacionado con nuestras decisiones y nuestras acciones justas. Necesitamos evitar la tentación de vivir en la rutina de nuestras vidas seguras. El Adviento nos llama a arriesgarlo todo.
La principal importancia de este tiempo, pienso que no es la observancia del adviento en sí; la importancia es el significado y la transformación que podemos recibir para nuestros ministerios, para nuestras vidas, para nuestras Iglesias y para nuestras comunidades.
¿Qué tipo de adviento están esperando nuestros hermanos y hermanas? ¿Cómo debemos vivir el tiempo de adviento entre muchos en nuestras sociedades, que no esperan ya nada?
Como cristianos, no solamente nos estamos preparando para celebrar la Temporada Navideña, esa sería una meta muy devastadora en este Primer Domingo de Adviento; nuestro compromiso debería ser esperar y ayudar a establecer el Reino de Dios en este mundo, creando algo completamente diferente a la realidad actual.
Podemos, posiblemente, rechazar el celebrar el Adviento, pero no tenemos permiso de rechazar el extender las manos para ayudar a todas las personas en esta tierra nuestra, de cualquier religión, para trabajar arduamente en traer el advenimiento de un nuevo mundo.
Permítanme concluir mi reflexión sumando mi voz a la de mis hermanos y hermanas de México en su demanda: VIVOS SE LOS LLEVARON, VIVOS LOS QUEREMOS.
“Look out down from heaven, look at us!”
“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.”
If we review the situation that the Jews were facing in Isaiah after the cruel exile experience, and the huge challenges that they had in front of them, we can easily understand their feeling overwhelmed. We, right now in the 21st century, are not living a life that is so different from the life they were living. Just like them, we have two options: just accept with resignation what is and live our lives accordingly by remembering the good old days; or we can seize this moment as a great opportunity to change our reality and our future from this uncertain and volatile present.
As a Christian community, we are entering in the season of Advent, or Small Lenten Season, as it used to be call by our ancestors in the faith. In our hands, we have the opportunity once again to be transforming ourselves as we transform the world!
It is apparent, I believe, that our world is in desperate need of transformation as we bear witness to the madness that our world is experiencing. War in some countries (Ukraine, etc.); devastation in other places (the global climate change that is compelling us); confrontations in many cities (Ferguson, etc.); the hellish reality in my home country (Mexico) with thousands of people missing and presumed dead, like the 43 students recently found; hate crimes; Ebola and a multitude of other kinds of diseases.
The reality of our complex world, of course, can overwhelm anyone, but I want us to consider the words of Gerhard Ebeling who wrote, “the most real of the real thing, is not the reality itself, but its possibilities.” And as the dreamer that I am, and with our Christian and human grounding, we must focus our efforts on the possibilities that are calling for our commitment to transformation. I stand fast in believing that not everything is lost.
God needs our hands, our feet, our hearts, and our minds to bring about a transformation in this world. It is not enough just to pray about it. Rev. Troy Perry, our Founder, is right when he says: “Some prayers need our feet.”
Now more than ever, we need to “be on guard!” with our eyes and hearts, paying attention to the future that we want to leave for the people who are coming after us. Thus, we must be mindful of the future we are leaving them, as it directly correlates to our decisions and our actions right now. We need to refuse the temptation to live in the routine of our safe lives. Advent calls us to risk it all.
The importance of this season, I believe, is not the observance of the season itself; the importance is the meaning and transformation that we can receive for our ministries, for our lives, for our churches, and for our communities.
What kind of Advent are you expecting, my siblings? How must we live the Advent Season among the many in our world who do not expect anything?
As Christians, we are not just preparing ourselves to celebrate the Christmas Season, as that can be a devastating goal for us this First Sunday of Advent; our commitment should be to expect and to help to establish the real Realm of God in the world, creating something completely different than the current reality.
Maybe we can refuse to celebrate the Advent, but we are not allowed to refuse to lend a helping hand to all people of this earth, to work hard to bring about the advent of a new world.
Let me conclude my reflection by adding my voice to my siblings in Mexico in their demand: VIVOS SE LOS LLEVARON, VIVOS LOS QUEREMOS (You took them alive from us, alive we want them back with us).
“So, chosen by God for this new life of love,
dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you:
compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.
Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.
Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.
And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.
It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
In the midst of Christmas holidays, we also celebrate the Day of the Holy Family. I’ve always been fascinated by a sculpture in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., USA, called “Holy Family at Rest”. The sculpture captures humanity with incredible depth.
The central figure is an exhausted Mary with baby Jesus almost falling from her arms; the scene invites us to protectthe baby and not let him fall. You can see the ambivalence between the tension produced when you are running away, escaping from a dangerous situation versus bodies resting in peace, tired but confident in the divine plan. Joseph and the donkey are lying next to Mary, exhausted too, but trying to give protection to her and the baby.
This tiredness, a feeling of being exhausted, captured in the sculpture, is shared by millions of people, families of all kinds, persecuted, fleeing from their places because of war, conflict, political reasons, ethnic discrimination, gender biases, and many other reasons, hoping to preserve their safety and integrity.
I find it unbelievable how so many people want to cling to one single family model, which by the way finds itself in a profound crisis and in very bad shape. It would be difficult to defend, if you want to be respectful to the Biblical texts, that there is only one family model. Families are as diverse as cultures are and have been changing throughout the history of humanity. There is no such thing as one unique family model; there are many ways of being a family, and sometimes they are functional or dysfunctional. But what is certainly common to all families is the necessity of safety and integrity, just what the Holy Family was also seeking.
Maybe the best approach we can take today is the one of openness proposed in the verses of Colossians: “wear love,” which does not specify what a typical Christian family looks like. This approach is one of a sensible family ethic and full of humanity, not necessarily confined to Christianity. The values of the Kingdom can be lived in any type of family.
Today, with the achievements of the LGBT community and marriage equality, we know that the theme of family models is at the center of a multidisciplinary
But as so many times in the past, I know humanity will find the right approach and lead us towards what is our best contribution: respecting others in all their differences, with humility and in constructive collaboration. And it will be precisely society — humanity — which will find solutions, and not the authoritarian and arbitrary decisions of many religious institutions.
“Oh God, Father, Mother, Lover, Friend… primordial Family, f
I would like to conclude recommending a novel of the great Lusitanian writer, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, José Saramago — The Gospel According to Jesus Christ — in which he presents a very interesting view of the episode of the flight to Egypt that marked Joseph for life.
While this verse from 2 Corinthians is not usually read on Christmas Day, to me it summarizes the meaning and purpose of Incarnation, of Jesus’ birth.
Many years ago, I remember hearing an old sermon illustration: A farmer went out on a very cold, Christmas morning to feed the birds huddling deep under evergreen branches and in bushes low to the ground. As he flung the seed, the birds scattered and fled, frightened, imagining him to be a predator. The farmer felt for the little ones trying to stay warm and fed in such harsh conditions, and heard himself cry out, “If only I were a bird!” At which point, the Christmas bells from the church in town rang out, and tears streamed down his face.
A little corny maybe, but the words still resound in my heart: “If only I were a bird.”
God’s impulse in risking incarnation, taking on human life and flesh, was an impulse of pure love. The Creator of the Universe wants to undermine our bad theologies of a “God, the predator drone” and wants instead to invite us to feed without fear, to buffer the harshness of life, right the wrongs that oppress and destroy.
Our first Christmas thoughts then are of gratitude and wonder for a self-giving God who risks for love, justice and peace… and invites us to do the same.
What difference could it make to those hurt by judgmental religion, or betrayal in a church context, to have the bad theologies and harmful human practices contradicted, repudiated, overturned? We in MCC know the answer to that question — we have tried, in our own imperfect ways, to embody that answer for decades!
That difference, is of course, why they put Pope Francis on the cover of Time magazine as “man of the year.” A different Pope who wants to be a bird — or rather, who wants to be human, who says incredulously, “Who Am I to Judge?” If Francis has done anything right at all, he has followed a God not limited by religion’s rules and failings. If he can continue to stand outside the Vatican, rather than sheltered by it, he can be an ally to all those calling for faith to be aligned with love and justice, especially for the poor. It may be that those outside, on the margins of any church, need him even more than those within.
The genius of MCC has never been primarily about what we say about sexuality but what we believe about the nature of God, who reconciled us in Christ! A God of love created us, in all our beauty and complexity, including our sexuality — and that God desires, at that first Christmas and now, always, to be nearer to us. To be a God who does not want to inspire terror, but hope. Emmanuel: God one of us, God with us. Today.
The season of Christmas has many different places. Some of us will travel to places across the world, others across the street to be with family and friends. We find ourselves maybe more than we want in places like shopping centers or the checkout line at the grocery store. For many people, twelve step meetings will be a place of Christmas; for others, work may be a place of Christmas. And of course, church is a place of Christmas.
In that familiar story we hear on Christmas Eve from Luke’s gospel, Mary and Joseph travel to a specific place. Because of a government census, they have to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem, the city of King David, to be registered there because Joseph is a descendant of David. When they get there, they are dis-placed. The city is so full of people who have returned to obey the census that there is not a room to be found. So a stable becomes THE place of Christmas. The place where Jesus is born.
The fields that the shepherds were in were also places of Christmas. Those fields were the place of good news and great joy. The angel appeared to them there and said, “Do not be afraid, see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
This is the good news to all people: to you is born. Christmas is a birthing place. That birthing place is not just some event that happened long ago in a land far away. We gather in our churches week after week, year after year, to proclaim that the birthing of God happens all the time. The good news of Christmas is that God is born into our places. Gerard Manly Hopkins reminds us that we are the manger, the field, Bethlehem in this beautiful poem:
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now.
And makes, O marvelous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn.
Each of us is a ‘new Nazareth’ where Christ is conceived, and each of us is a new Bethlehem where Christ is born. This is the miracle of Christmas: that God has come to us, Word in flesh appearing and that we are invited to ‘flesh out,’ to ‘give birth’ to God in our lives.
Like Mary and Joseph, some of us might be displaced. Some of us may be on the brink of homelessness, while others of us may be displaced from the country of our origin. Maybe we find ourselves displaced in our relationships or families or jobs in this season. For those of us who are struggling with illness, we may feel displaced from our bodies or from the very medical care we need to survive. In our churches or our communities, we might feel like ‘there is no room for us in the Inn.’ The good news of Christmas is that God comes to us in the displaced parts of our lives and gives us hope and courage and strength for new life.
Christmas is a birthing place — a place where God is born into our places and a place where we are born. We hear the phrase ‘born again’ a lot. The miracle of Christmas is that all of us are ‘born again, and again, and again.’ Because of God’s gift in Christ at Christmas, we are invited to a journey of transformation, which is our continual birth in God’s love.
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’“ — Matthew 1:18-25
An important lesson that I find in this text, especially in the Gospel of Matthew that tells us about Jesus Christ’s origins, is that not everything is guaranteed via God’s divine plans. Freedom and human will are also involved. God is always ready to surprise us, to let the best of our inner self shine. God always has the right solution and the right path to make things the way they are supposed to be.
This same situation can be found if we review the whole salvation history, starting in Genesis and going through each key moment that had an impact in the lives of men and women in the Biblical story. It seems like God’s plans are always moving on a razor’s edge.
When we review, we would realize there’s always a common denominator. In God’s plan, dialogue is always necessary. Now we witness the dialogue of the angel with Joseph in a dream. God is always adding projects to God’s creatures. I think most of us have experienced this in different personal or community situations.
Without too much looking, we all go through nights of doubts as Joseph did. Sometimes, we put many obstacles and conditions on the work of God. At other times, we try to correct the way God acts. On other occasions, we allow ourselves to be seduced by things that do not add much to our lives. We must have the courage to “let God be God” and take care of ourselves through being fully human and devoting our strength and will to God’s divine plan.
I have always been struck by the silence of Joseph, his limited presence in the Gospels, but in this passage his importance is highlighted, even in his doubt, to take Mary as his wife, accepting to be Jesus’ earthly father, and taking on the responsibility of naming him.
Mary, who is barely named in the text, together with Joseph remind us, with their attitude of faith and openness to God’s plan, that we can also be a blessing in the life of all humanity.
We as MCC have also received a very important task. We have a divine plan in our hands, that will bless and bring the good news to many. It has to be our own decision, personally and as a community, to accept this mission, seriously and with joy.
Many lives will be touched by our response, even in the middle of the night of doubts. We can contribute much, even with our silent and committed prayer for this to be a more humane and egalitarian world.
In these last days of Advent, we need to decide if we really want to do a review of our personal and community life, about how we are preparing to live the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. We need to stand firm and not fall into the temptation of the holiday season, identifying this time only as an excuse for consumerism.
The question we should ask ourselves is this: Am I going to be spending this Christmas time living in solidarity with the Divine plan?
Matthew 11:2-6 — When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?
John the Baptist had a problem with his cousin Jesus, who had turned out not to be anything at all like John had expected him to be. John had devoted his entire life to preparing the way for the coming messiah. He had made all kinds of personal sacrifices so that Jesus would be able to do whatever needed to be done to save the people and set them free.
Yet instead of bringing fiery judgment, Jesus had been healing the sick and raising the dead. Instead of confronting the powerful, he had been comforting the poor. If Jesus was the Christ, why did he not just proclaim himself the Messiah King, destroy the power of the Romans and of Herod, and release John himself from prison? It was becoming clear to John that perhaps Jesus just might not be the one after all. His growing disappointment had led him to wonder whether Jesus would ever conform to popular messianic expectations. If Jesus was not going to be who John needed him to be, perhaps the time had come for him to give up on Jesus and look for someone else.
Who among us has not found ourselves stumbling over expectations of who we are supposed to be? It seems as though our parents, teachers, partners, family, friends, coworkers, pastors, bosses, and even perfect strangers all expect us to be and to behave in a certain way — the way that works for them. If the voices of the others are strong enough, we will even embrace their expectations as our own, as though what other people expect of us is what we are somehow supposed to expect of ourselves. If we go along to get along for too long, we can lose sight of who we really are. Once that happens, we are no longer able to become who God created us to be.
The truth is that, even when we do miraculous things, somebody is going to be disappointed. Yet their disappointment is just that; it is theirs. It is not our responsibility to pick up and bear the burden of their disappointment. We can allow others to own and to carry their own feelings about us and at the same time embrace all of who we truly are.
My prayer in this season of Advent is that each of us will come to know and to accept our own “true you” so we can become who we really are. For that miracle, the world awaits. Amen.
“He shall sense the truth by his reverence for the Lord:
He shall not judge by what his eyes behold,
nor decide by what his ears perceive.”
Jewish Publication Society, TANAK Translation
The passages read from Isaiah during the season of Advent articulate a longing and a promise of an ideal leader who will bring peace to warring nations, justice to the poor and needy, and righteousness to all creation. The longing still exists today for leaders who are authentic and have integrity — leaders who are motivated by the common good rather than manipulated by money and power.
The images of the Jesse Tree and the Lion lying down with the Lamb from Isaiah 11:1-10 have captured our imaginations and made their way to greeting cards because they symbolize this kind of leadership. These verses in Isaiah point to three key characteristics of transformational leadership that I believe MCC is being called to manifest in the world today: rootedness, giftedness and innerness.
“He shall sense the truth by his reverence for the Lord: He shall not judge by what his eyes behold, nor decide by what his ears perceive.” (Isa. 11:3) Transformational leaders lead from within. The Messiah that Isaiah anticipates will ‘sense truth’ based on a relationship with God. This inner truth is the clarity Bob Johansen speaks about in his book, Leaders Make the Future. He claims that the best leaders are seers, sensors and listeners, and that their clarity comes from inner strength and discipline. It is important for individual leaders to do the inner work necessary to know one’s strengths and limitations, shadow and light. As a community, we in MCC can offer places of safety and support for individuals to do that kind of work. We can also engage in this kind of inner work as a denomination, understanding more deeply our strengths and limitations, shadow and light, so that we might “sense the truth” that is beyond what our eyes can behold or our ears perceive.
May the leadership lessons of Isaiah guide us in this season of Advent as we engage in transforming ourselves as we transform the world.
Romans 13: 11-12: Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light . . . .
Rev. Jim Mulcahy, our church development worker in Eastern Europe, says, “I am so grateful I was able to go (to Ukraine and Russia for MCC) . . . I shed so many tears with people, Nancy, I heard so many confessions, my clothes were wet from people crying on me . . . I will never laugh or sneer at the Apostle Paul again . . .” Ironically, we in MCC are experiencing the “gospel of the heart set free” that Paul was preaching, even as others continue to misuse his words against us!
For me, these particular verses from Romans 13 are pure poetry and remind me that our faith was born in the crucible of the Ancient Near East, not the West, in a time full of apocalyptic images, political oppression, and injustice.
About 15 years ago, after more than a decade of pastoring in an unrelenting, and frankly, apocalyptic, time of AIDS deaths, I took refuge in poetry, in writing it as well. It helped heal me and gave me strength for the next battle. All of us — even pastors and Elders — need places of refuge, shelters in the storm.
Sometimes, it is art, music, and poetry that can lift us beyond the present moment, where we wait for Hope to find us, where we trust God to lift us beyond survival — to that “peaceable Kin-dom” we long for.
This first Sunday of Advent, the readings may be poetic, but they are often apocalyptic, dark, and disturbing, shaking us awake, and not very gently! They ask us to get a grip, get ready, be alert, because God is on his/her way! It is time, NOW, to pay attention! Just as the culture is seasonally seducing us on every side to be distracted, cheerful, addicted to excesses, frivolous and greedy — we must do something else:
It is Advent, and World AIDS Day, all at once — ready or not, MCC. We are asked to be awake, available, vulnerable and willing. To write poems, songs, plays — to paint a future of love and justice for all Creation. To live our calling, every day, as our gift from a good God who is, after all, “Emmanuel, God with us,” in apocalyptic or just plain challenging times. Amen.