Okay, track with me now, I’m going to make some connections.
You woke up–or stayed up far too late–and started reading this. That was a decision you made that connected us. Maybe you are having a great day, loving the Holidays, and reading this to make your joy complete. Maybe you are having the worst Monday, hate the holidays, and are hoping to find something in this to help you hang on.
Today I heard my friend Tim preach. Tim has been a friend and mentor for coming on 20 years. Tim spoke of why God chose shepherds to deliver the message of Jesus’ birth. Tim imagined himself as one of the angels–Tim, the Executive Angel–who got the news from God to go sing to some shepherds. I’ve heard sermons on the shepherds being a lowly audience for many years…and it was a great sermon. How great? I didn’t think, “Well, I would have preached it this way.” Ask a pastor–no, ask an honest pastor–how often they think that, listening to someone else’s sermon.
Tim and I are connected.
Hearing his words of hope and encouragement, well, gave me hope and encouraged me today. They got me thinking about what I would write in this reflection.
Tim and you are connected, through me.
This, in the natural realm, is how following Jesus works.
“But Mike,” you say, “this is also how every human belief system and any other sociological phenomenon works. You can always trace a chain of connection back and, as we’ve told you a thousand times, correlation does not equal causation.”
True. And you have told me a thousand times. Thank you.
Here’s the difference: Jesus made himself part of this chain.
This morning I’m speaking hope and encouragement to you because Jesus himself spoke it to someone, who spoke it to someone, who spoke it to Tim, who spoke it to me. Yeah, there were a few more steps in there. Feel free to read Matthew chapter 1 if you’re sad that I skipped them.
Another way to say that God really lived in space and time, God who created both space and time, is that God entered the domino chain of our lives.
God, who lives outside time, was born at a particular minute and second. God, who lives not in outer space but beyond that (I don’t believe if you had a good enough rocket ship, or even the TARDIS, could you track God down) took up residence in a tiny feed trough in a little barn in a small, remote town. Jesus, who either was or was not God,* came poor into a world ruled by the rich–though God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the world and everything in it belongs to God. Psalm 50:10-12
One might argue that a God this powerful could have influenced us from way out there. I’m sure God could have and did.
But God jumped in and renamed Peter. God told James and John to give up the fishing and run with him, instead. God stopped in the middle of a maddening crowd because a woman who wanted only to hide from him and stop bleeding could not have both, and he wanted to look her in the eye and tell her about her faith, in front of everyone. God sat on a log on the beach with a naked, self-cutting man who had been possessed/insane seconds before, and they talked. God, whom we call Jesus, cried with Mary and Martha, took a dead little girl by the hand and made her alive, and grabbed Peter by the hand when Peter was walking on the freaking water so that Peter would not drowned.
Every person Jesus touched touched other people. Every life Jesus changed turned around and brought change into other lives. I’m writing this because about 10 people, starting with my sister Colleen, then a woman named Lisa, a friend named Trish, and others made God real to me. Yes, God’s spirit did the work–by working in them to love me. I hated that Bible study I attended–yet I kept going, and what is that about? Borrowing from yesterday’s post, “With the voices singing in our ears, saying/That this was all folly.”
I’ll tell you what that’s about: people loved me. Jesus loved people who loved people who loved people who…loved me. That’s how it works. And yes, I will argue to my dying breath that this is causation.
Here’s what I’m telling you on the sixteenth day of Advent: we doubt that we can impact anyone or that we make a difference in people’s lives. That’s because we have this tiny, microview of how all this works.
But the big view shows us the only thing that has changed lives for good, in the history of lives, is people loving one another, small acts of kindness, words of affirmation, gifts of forgiveness, and yes, sharing where that love comes from and how it snuck into your life. Grace. Jesus jumped into the chain to tell and show people that God is like the father of the prodigal son, that however nasty and dog-eat-dog the world appears, the deeper truth, the “deeper magic before the dawn of time,” is grace.
Advent means grace. Christmas is grace. Jesus interjecting himself into the generational line through the body and pain of Mary and making a connection that continues with you tonight or this morning (or whenever you snuck in time to read this) and will continue outward from you today, that is grace manifested in the universe. That is grace offered and grace that will be received.
If you hate the holidays and just want them to be over, or want to die, I understand that and I’ve stood there. I can’t make it go away for you but I can offer this: I know, I know God loves you, and what looks darkest when you are stuck in your own lacerated, self-condemning thoughts can look like the beginning of hope if you will take a breath ( No, I mean it. Breathe. ) and then consider how this chain has reached you. You and I are connected. You and Tim are connected. You and Jesus are connected. Minuscule, mundane miracle that it is, if you can read from me that God loves you, maybe Jesus is telling you that he loves you. Miniature, commonplace grace is given hand to hand, mouth to ear, life to life and that, I believe, is the Kingdom of God coming to earth.
If you read the Darkness post, I get to tell you now that the surgeons successfully saved Gabriel’s leg, the surgery was a success and one of the doctors told Gabriel that it is a miracle, one in a million.** A lot of people prayed.
Darkness and light. That’s Advent.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
*”If you choose not to decide you still have a made a choice.” Rush.
** From Gabriel: “Uno de los médicos dijo que es un milagro que siga acá, que es un caso de uno en un millón, por el daño que implica dicha arteria. Supongo que Dios aún tiene planes para mí acá en vida.”