Here we are at the beginning of a new liturgical year. And we begin our preparations in Advent for the coming of Christ – both as a babe in Bethlehem and as Divine fulfillment at the end of all time. It seems like a good moment to look at the whole story and think about the grand arch of God’s love.
It all began, remember, with God saying “let there be light!” And creativity and the loving of all creation came into being. Soon there was a garden in which God pulled up some of the earth and breathed the divine breath into it to create human beings in the image of divine love. In Eden there was justice, love, life eternal, walking with God. But human beings wanted something else; they wanted their own power and, frankly, love was not enough, they thought. So they sought to grasp at what you cannot grasp and the justice, love, and life eternal were lost, cheaply traded for easy control, blame, pride, and all the rest. Again and again God called out people to walk with God and find love. And again and again, we chose something else, something that looked to us to be better, but turned out to be so much less. Eventually the people of God are enslaved to sin and to the Egyptians, living in a place that was not home. God sends freedom and takes the people out into the desert to learn how to love and find their way to the promised land. God gives us commandments and food and water ... and love. It doesn’t take long for us to create a golden calf god we can control and define that is easier than God’s love. Still, God leads us to the promised land where there is hope of Eden yet again, hope that all will have food, no one will be enslaved, that all will know the love of God. And we find the little local gods and take them up. We enslave the poor. We gather wealth instead of creating the community of God’s love. And God sends the prophets to remind us that this could be the promised land and instead we are making it something so much less. In our selfishness we separate from one another, the northern kingdom of Israel from the southern kingdom of Judah, and in our weaknesses separated from our shared strength we are overcome by Babylonians and Assyrians, killed, enslaved and taken into exile – just as the prophets had warned. We return, a faithful remnant, to find our way again with God, only we are so broken that there are different factions and none of us seems to really know the way, although we all believe we know the way. The Essenes (the Dead Sea Scroll folks) separate out from everyone. The Pharisees know how to get it right; and they also know everyone else gets it wrong. The Sadducees are the opportunists who will do what they have to do to keep the people of God afloat, surviving. And in this dark time, controlled by the Roman occupation, God sends one more hope of Eden. God comes as a human being, Emmanuel, God with us, or as the Gospel of John puts it: the Word was made flesh and dwells among us. As Christina Rosetti will put it in her poem made Christmas carol: Love came down at Christmas. And here’s the thing about Jesus, God’s love incarnate: the Grace of Jesus doesn’t depend on us building Eden in the promised land or being good enough not to trade divine love for something less. In the cross, Jesus brings the love of God to face, straight on, all the evils we can muster, and he
transforms them into life and love, into resurrection.
As we prepare for the coming of that baby in the manger, what do you need that baby to bring to you and to God’s world? Ultimately the gift of Christmas is Eden, justice rolling down like waters and the full perfection of God’s love. But we seek it so often in the baby in our own baby steps. What baby steps will you take this year of all years? One gift, for sure: we all would love the promised land of a vaccine this year. In that poor refugee child born in a stable to unwed parents from far away, we find the hopes and dreams of all the years. And they are not only our hopes and dreams, but somehow even God’s hopes and dreams. May you see the everlasting light of God’s love in this season. Let us say with God: “Let there be light!”
The Very Rev. Gary Barker