Do the signs of the times alarm you?

I was stuck in a long line of traffic that stretched from the Throg’s Neck Bridge up I95 all the way to Route 8, which gave me almost 3 hours to listen to NPR. The dominant story was President Obama’s impending decision about immigration reform. The Republican guest declared the President’s move to be illegal, hypocritical, and unacceptable. The Democratic guest called it a win for everyone and declared that Republican objections had everything to do with an agenda of rejecting anything the President offers simply because it is he who is offering it. Suggestions of shutting down the government were discussed. The Republican guest suggested alternative and dire consequences to the President’s decision. The sense was that some would end up happy with the decision and some would end up angry, but either way the decision would effectively be a declaration of war between the two parties. Things were about to get real ugly (as if they aren’t already ugly enough).

A day earlier I received an email which our Regional Minister, Michael Ciba, sent to the pastors in his care about the impending decision in Ferguson announcing whether the police officer who fired on Michael Brown would be indicted on criminal charges. Again, there will be great division around the country over the decision, and Rev. Ciba encouraged us to prepare for the “storm” that will hit in the decision’s wake.

Speaking of storms, doesn’t it feel eerie or somewhat ominous that in the middle of November Buffalo, NY is already under 6 feet of snow? Adding to the unsettling sense of it is the odd fact that on the northern side of town only 4 inches cover the ground.

Last night’s news reported possible terrorist plots targeting the power grid. Add that to ISIS beheadings and sporadic attacks on uniformed men and women at home and in Canada, feelings of fear and vulnerability become all the more palpable.

Beyond that, or in addition to it all, our lives are already filled with stressors of our own: fears and sorrows, preoccupations and problems, distractions and demands, mounting responsibilities and pressing needs.

The reality of our collective concerns is more than just a little disconcerting. Not only may a storm be coming, but the outer edges may already be upon us. Or, so it may seem.

I won’t belittle any of the above, but I’ll note that other times have felt equally cataclysmic to other generations. Alarm has been a reality through the ages and the causes of alarm have often been real. The fact of the matter is that life is more fragile and we, and our loved ones, are more vulnerable than we are inclined generally to see.

This vulnerability is the truth and the reality into which the Savior is born. In Jesus Christ God shows us God’s will to come into a messy and broken world. The Christmas proclamation that we are encouraged to hold is that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.” (John 1:5) The corresponding image that we carry is that of a fearful and faithful mother holding her newborn and utterly dependent child.

Isn’t it odd that God comes to us in this way? The beauty of it struck me in a new way when I held Charley as a baby. Is there a force more powerful in softening one’s heart? Is there a moment more profoundly sacred than holding a newborn? The feeling a parent has must be akin to the love with which God holds God’s people. Christmas, and the precious Incarnation that it points to, is our sure reminder we are meant for more than the fear that circumstances dictate. It is the reminder that God is present in this fear-filled world. It is the proclamation that to God we are sacred and with God we live. It is the celebration that the beauty that is God will color over the darkness of life’s vulnerabilities.

Christmas invites us to claim hope in the midst of all the brokenness, and therefore to be hope in all its mess.

May this Advent season prepare us to accept this remarkable invitation.

God bless you,

Pastor Tim