A Word for Christmas

Beginning when I was in the 9th grade at Eddystone HS, I worked at Chester Hospital – first on the regular floors as a kind of male candy stripper, then as a Nurse’s Aide, and eventually in the Emergency Room right along with the doctors and nurses doing just about everything they did. In the ER I saw flesh in every conceivable condition. I saw gunshots and knife wounds; I saw flesh torn to shreds in car accidents, burned black in fires, and in one case baked by the heat of a fire. I saw flesh that was raped, ripped, and ravaged.

Perhaps the most defining memory for me of those years is really two memories, but I think my mind has put them together over the years as if they happened one right after the other.

The first is the memory of the night I carried a man’s leg down to the morgue – he had been hit by a train, and the surgeon had to amputate. The second is the memory of the night I carried a stillborn baby down to that same morgue. As I carried the man’s leg, I remember thinking to myself how incredibly heavy it was. As I carried the baby I remember thinking to myself how incredibly light she was.

From those years I know “flesh” in all of its heaviness, all of its lightness, and all of its weakness.

Now hear the amazing Good News of God’s Word: (Jn. 1:14). God chose the weakness of human flesh to defeat the worldly powers of sin and death. Jesus came in the flesh with all of its vulnerability, but he infused it with “grace and truth.”

Still, we all know “flesh.” From personal experience, either in our own flesh or in the flesh of our loved ones, we know of the vulnerability and the weakness – we are even amazed sometimes at how fragile we can be – sickness and death are frequently victorious. We know “flesh”!

Now hear the amazing Good News of God’s Word: (Jn. 1:14). God chose the weakness of human flesh to defeat the worldly powers of sin and death. Jesus came in the flesh with all of its vulnerability, but he infused it with “grace and truth.”

Still, we all know “flesh.” We know in personally painful ways how easily tempted we are by the sins of the flesh. In so many ways our flesh seems to rule over our minds. Rationality – what we know to be true – flies out the window when our flesh has a need to be met. Our rational minds know we shouldn’t drink too much alcohol or take any drugs or be unfaithful to our spouse or partner or fall prey to the latest fad or believe the glitzy advertisement, but more times than not our “flesh” drags us down the very same path we know we should not go. We know “flesh”!

Now hear the amazing Good News of God’s Word: (Jn. 1:14). God chose the weakness of human flesh to defeat the worldly powers of sin and death. Jesus came in the flesh with all of its vulnerability, but he infused it with “grace and truth.”

We may find the songs of the angels especially bittersweet this Christmas.

     “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards all people.”

 How distant we still are from true peace in this world! What is more, that peace will remain elusive as long as this world persists in the evils of greed and injustice, and as long as hatred and violence are regarded as valid expressions of fear and frustration.

 It may seem inappropriate to you, but this Christmas I find myself thinking of Mohammed and Isaiah, Budda, and the lofty teachings found at places within the Hindu Scriptures. The terrible irony is this: If all Islamic people followed the teaching of the Prophet, and Buddhists followed the way of Budda, and Hindu’s followed the highest insights of their holy men, and Jews heeded the message of Isaiah, and Christians totally threw in their lot with that Jew who was born in a stable at Bethlehem, then “peace and good will among all people” would truly draw near to the world.

 Let it be emphatically said: In these teachings, greed and injustice, hatred and violence have no place.

Our present situation underscores the fallen, corrupt condition of our humanity. Our present predicament reveals the slimy way that the evil from within us distorts the teachings of those marvellous religious leaders whom we honor, so that we commit the obscenity of misusing their holy names to buttress our evil ways.

 Do you think I sound disheartened?  Well, ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’

 Yes, I am disheartened by the self-deceit that permits people to disregard justice, peace, mercy and love. I am disheartened by the prejudice and self-righteousness on both sides of conflicts. I am disheartened by the way the tentacles of evil entangle even the best of us.

No, I am not disheartened about Christ and his peace. He comes to transform us, to reconcile us to our God and to our own deepest selves, and then to one another. He comes in the power of the Holy Spirit to create a new humanity.

 To some degree that new humanity is actually happening. Every day it is happening. In the darkest places there are little splashes of light, where reconciliation takes place. The fact that so many Christians at this Christmas season, groan within over the events of recent years, shows that his coming has not been in vain. The fact that the Christ who comes offers us grace upon grace to redeem the apparently irredeemable situations, leaves me far from disheartened.

Here I have the courage to say with you:

     Glory to God in the highest

     and on earth peace, goodwill towards all people.”