At a pre-dawn gathering on Wednesday morning, our small group of six, led by associate rector Ruth Anne Garcia, recited a portion of Psalm 72, including the 7th verse: "In his time shall the righteous flourish; there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more." Ah, but when? Not this Christmas.
Where's the peace in Mosul, Baghdad or Fallujah? Sudan's Darfur region is in the grip of fear and failure. Tribulation, not righteousness, is the path in Congo, Afghanistan, Colombia and Chechnya. The Holy Land plays host to some mighty unholy acts. This is a sad time in the world.
And here in our land of plenty, where mega-churches stage Christmas pageants costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, people can be found clinging to the fringes of society, hurting, marginalized, with little of their dignity intact. All this in the season of giving.
Searching for goodwill in the hearts of people? Go right ahead and keep looking, but be careful of the stone throwers. Witness this election year and our chase for baseball in Washington. Both amply demonstrated that we have a way of behaving badly, in our politics, in our treatment of those we don't care for and -- due to our own self-centeredness -- even in our responses to those whom we profess to like.
A melancholy Christmas Day was on the way. Okay, I'll 'fess up. Perhaps I was yearning for a Christmas that never was . . . or grieving over family and friends no longer here. Whatever the reasons, I had edged close to an emotional pit.
That's why I am devoting some space today to thank Steve Huber. His words, conveyed in a Dec. 1 essay, "Make A Start," and in a Dec. 15 newsletter, lifted me out of my low moments and helped me reach this day.
"We'll never fully achieve Isaiah's vision of the coming kingdom, where 'They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4),' " Huber wrote. "But," he asked, "shouldn't we make a start?"
Huber, priest-in-charge and associate rector of St. Columba's Episcopal Church, tapped into feelings that can creep in about now. "Almost any year, a preacher can fairly describe the present situation as dark up against the hope of the season," he said. "Living in Washington, we are acutely aware of our nation's deep divisions and our unstable world. We know about anxiety!" But we're not alone to figure it out. That, said Huber, is Christmas's ultimate promise.
The choice he poses is stark: to seek our meaning and purpose in the world's promise of wealth and power, or to join in the Christmas invitation to tear down the walls that separate us. "Whether it's war, poverty, the environment or any other injustice (they're all related), take your pick and start somewhere," Huber wrote.
Get past all the fluttering angels and glorious sounds of the season, he said, and slow down. Use the time to reflect, study, discuss -- and, yes, pray, for a radical reordering of our thinking so our own actions will change. That's the way to break through our darkness.
Points well taken. And so today, I'm a little less overwhelmed by our destructive ways and closer to the joy of Christmas, thanks to Huber.
Unfortunately, I still remain far short of the glory of God, too spotted by the world, too quick to judge, too slow to lift the fallen and quite capable of getting myself into jams by entertaining and acting upon challenging thoughts. Such as, how can we have justice and peace in the land when the causes of strife seem to run free?
Which explains why, on this very holy day in Christendom, I am:
Steamed up about Jerry Falwell launching a new Moral Majority Coalition that will urge voters to go to the polls to "vote Christian." (What does my faith have to do with tax reform, shifting the cost of Medicaid to the states or Social Security private accounts?)