Hear again these words from our collect for the day:
“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”
What a paradox. Here we call for the Lord to come in power and great might, and God is born among us as a helpless child. What does it mean? Could it be that power is something different than we thought of wished it to be? It means I think that though we might like God to come and rescue us from the frenzies and messes or our lives, instead God chooses to come and live in the frenzies and messes with us. It means that God does not wield power, but rather shares power in a ways that takes in and redeems all of who we are – all that characterizes our lives. And God’s power, living and breathing among in a helpless child makes us necessary and active participants in our redemption.
When I was a child my grandmother had a plaque hanging in her kitchen that read, “God helps those who help themselves”. St. Augustine put the same truth a little differently when he said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” The bottom line – It’s not God’s nature to work around us. It is God’s deepest desire to bring about reconciliation of all creation through us. The reason for the incarnation? God took on flesh and blood in the person of Jesus to claim us as partners in the work of redemption.
So God will not show us to clean house, or make all things right in our lives. Rather, God in Christ is ever present to lead us in his way. And St. Paul’s words to us this morning are part of that way. In our second lesson from his letter to the Christians in Philippi we read:
“Let you gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
Being gentle does not mean being weak – gentleness has a strength to it. It does not mean letting other people run all over you with unacceptable behavior. On a personal level, at this time of year it may mean lowering unrealistic expectations for others and ourselves. If we can let go of the dream of having the so called “perfect holiday”, our gentleness may well flourish. Most of us will never be that “perfect” family around that “perfect “tree, in that “perfect” home, all happy and smiling. Sure we have our very good and perhaps even shining moments, but the expectation of the “perfect” holiday is an illusion marketed by industries that want to convince us that we can achieve that if we just buy whatever product they are selling. If we can be freed from that illusion, then we may well find gentleness brimming over for others and ourselves.
This holiday season, gentleness might mean keeping things beautifully simple – like what about sacrificing some chores we feel compelled to do in order to take a much needed nap. Or how about going outside to play with the kids instead of slaving in the kitchen over yet another batch of cookies? Or perhaps it means boldly using a ribbon that clashes with the wrapping paper instead of making a frenzied run to the store to find jus the perfect color. It is little acts like these is favor of gentle simplicity that add up to real openings God can take in the work of redemption.
This season, our gentleness might overflow our families and go with us into the world as well. In the hustle and bustle of life, many lonely people get bumped and jostled and overlooked. If we are practicing the gentleness of God in Christ, we will notice them. Haven’t we ourselves found it true that a kind word or a simple, thoughtful gesture can go a long way to dispelling a sense of loneliness?
God’s gentleness dwelling is us may also impact the way we look at the world at large. Justice does not reign in our world – that is plain to see. How can the awesome, yet gentle power of God in Christ work through us to change things for the better? Advent can be a time to ask ourselves- whether we are mothers or fathers, students, retirees, business men or women, homemakers – How can I be an agent of God’s peace and justice, not just for us and for our nation, but for the whole global village? And the action does not have to be grand – God’s power can partner with even our small efforts.
For instance perhaps this year you have contributed in some way to our parish partnership with Cristosal in El Salvador. Perhaps you put craft supplies in the suitcase that we took this summer for children in the safe house there. Or maybe you were one of the travelers on the trip, or perhaps you bought some of the beautiful crafts we brought back. Or maybe you encouraged those of us who wrote the resolution for diocesan convention. Or maybe yours is the work of praying regularly for all these efforts. In whatever way you contribute it joins with the efforts of many others here at St. Paul’s and makes a real difference in El Salvador. Jus this week we received a letter of thanks from Noah Bullock, Cristosal’s Executive Director. He writes:
I wanted to take the opportunity to personally thank you both for the extraordinary support from St. Paul’s this year. From the Global School course to your gifts, financial and physical, and last but not least your work on the Diocesan resolution, I am deeply grateful for your exemplary leadership and generosity in supporting Cristosal and our work in El Salvador.
These past two years have been difficult ones in El Salvador, and I am very proud of how Cristosal has been able to provide leadership and innovative responses to attend to victims of violence and strengthen a culture of democracy and peace. St. Paul’s Newburyport has been with us from the beginning, and I feel it is especially important to acknowledge what a major role you all have played, and continue to play, in this work.
So, over the next couple of weeks, whenever you feel frenzied, or about to explode at someone you love, or overwhelmed by the harshness of certain situations you encounter locally, or across our globe, ask yourself, “What would gentleness look like in this case?” When you have an answer, pray for the power of God to equip you to be that gentleness and do your imperfect best to live into it. When we are gentle with ourselves and each other, the tensions melt and our Blessed One is born to and through us once again.
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”