Friday, December 21, 2012

From Pregnancy to Parenthood

I became a parent when our first son was born, but months before that day my life began to change.  Although Debbie did the heavy lifting, I was also in a way pregnant.  We anticipated and prepared; we made a place in our home for our coming baby.  We sketched out how the routine of our lives would change.  As the pregnancy progressed, our lives were already being altered.

Advent is a period of pregnancy in the rhythm of the church year.  We anticipate anew each year the coming of Jesus.  We wonder what Mary and Joseph experienced during this marvelous pregnancy that would change so many things.  We dream about how Jesus grew into his calling and then launched his ministry (Luke 1:80).  We know where it all went and where it will yet go.  Advent is about preparing ourselves to participate in what Jesus began.  What did Jesus begin?  In what are we participating?  Rudy Wiebe put it this way:

Jesus says in his society there is a new way for [people] to live:
You show wisdom, by trusting people;
You handle leadership, by serving;
You handle offenders, by forgiving;
You handle money, by sharing;
You handle enemies, by loving
And you handle violence, by suffering.
In fact you have a whole new attitude toward everything, toward everybody. Toward nature, toward the state in which you happen to live, toward women, toward slaves, toward all and every single thing.  Because this is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking differently. [The Blue Mountains of China (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970) pp. 215-216.]

Pregnancy is the prelude to parenthood.  One quickly learns that parenthood is about a great deal more than sharing pictures on Facebook and buying cute baby clothes.  Advent is the prelude to Christmas.  As we read further in the story, one quickly realizes that the coming of Jesus is about a great deal more than a cooing baby and some dough-eyed farm animals.  It is about a new way of living, of being in the world.  This is what we are preparing for during these weeks of anticipation.

James Kelsey
Advent 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Weeping for Our Children

We all know that the world can surprise us with unexpected beauty and healing warmth.  We also know that the world can shock us with unimaginable cruelty and savage indifference.  This week we are acutely aware of the latter.  Twenty precious young children, six caring educators and a mother are dead.  Suddenly there is the sound of gunfire where there should be the sound of laughter.  In little more than a moment there are lifeless bodies where there should be wiggling arms and legs full of surplus youthful energy.  In the place of Christmas parties and Sunday School pageants, there are funerals and weeping that seems as if it will have no end.  How do we make sense of this?  What do we do?

First, we don’t try to make sense of it.  We simply look it in the face and say:  This happened not far from us, to people like us.  It is not that these could have been our children or this could have been our community.  As Christians we believe that we are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper.  These are our children; this is our community.  Although none of us pulled the trigger, none of us ever wanted this, it has happened in the society that we have built.  We cannot distance ourselves from what has happened.

We can ask what caused this.  We can devise a plan to reduce the likelihood of future schoolhouse slaughters.  We can start blaming one another and line up along our well-rehearsed social and political divisions.  What we cannot do is make sense of this.  There is no neat lesson to be learned here except that there are powers loose in our world that want to destroy what God has so lovingly made.  Christian faith does not minimize human suffering; it does not deny loss; it does not whitewash tragedy.  Rather, faith looks something in the face and gives it the proper name.  Faith gives us the courage to tell the truth about what has happened.

The cross is what the Gospel provides in times like this.  All the loss, all the suffering, all the death, all the ugliness, all the savagery is taken up in the cross of Jesus, absorbed into the heart of God.  God has taken to himself all the pain.  And God goes on absorbing it all, until the end of time.

Elie Wiesel stood in a crowd of prisoners in a concentration camp and watched as some prisoners were hung for stealing a piece of bread.  One of the culprits was a young boy who did not weigh very much; it took him a while to die.  He struggled as he hung there.  Someone in the crowd of prisoners asked: “Where is God now?”  Another answered:  “Hanging at the end of a rope.”  This is the answer of the Gospel to the ongoing presence of evil in our world.  God is among the victims.  God does not deliver himself from the tragedy.

Should we have a sober conversation about guns and ammo clips?  Should we talk about how we care for the troubled among us, how we support parents who face enormous challenges in child rearing?  Should we ask what this tragedy reveals to us about the broader community that we have built?  Yes, we must; but don’t expect any of this to make sense of what happened.  Just know that, in a way, God died anew hiding under a desk in a first grade classroom in Newtown, Connecticut.

"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more." (Matthew 2:18)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;  he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4)

James Kelsey
Executive Minister
American Baptist Churches of New York State