Responsively Yours: Seeking Deeper Purpose in Contentious Times
These are contentious days. The meaning of justice is contested in our public spaces. Hard-won rights and freedoms are threatened while the expansion of rights and freedoms is demanded and due. Social media allows us to learn from each other directly, unmediated by textbook publishers, newspaper editors or a small number of news broadcasts, but some of these direct sources are not reliable. The lack of dignity with which persons of color and persons who are poor are treated, heated rhetoric and violence all strike like pressure on a deep wound. The role of our country in the community of nations is being restated and the capacity of international institutions to achieve their highest purposes is under heavy critique.
We are also contending with each other within The United Methodist Church. We want to love each other well. We want to read the Bible well and live in accordance with all that we learn from it, being conformed to the image of Christ. We do not all come to the same conclusions about how to do this. We hurt each other, and our hurt is unequal.
Even now, in the middle of this contentious time, we know that God is at work. Jesus’ birth is a declaration of God’s presence and continuing work, of love made visible.
Jesus lived in contentious times as well. His family fled to a neighboring country to avoid violent persecution. He lived in occupied territory, in racially conflicted spaces where Greeks and Jews and Samaritans viewed each other as “less than.” In adulthood he demanded much more of the religious establishment than they were offering. He got angry and engaged in at least one public demonstration involving the destruction of property, overturning tables in the Temple. He engaged in public disputation with the authorities.
But Jesus also lived differently, speaking directly to women, healing—by touch—even those who were unclean, honoring children, often going away by himself to pray, participating in the religious life of the community, investing himself in a small group of followers that never seemed to “get it.” He lived the love that is God’s deep call.
Last January, I decided that I needed to open myself to more images and art alongside the scripture to keep myself rooted. I’ve been reading some poetry; reading slowly, allowing the poets to help me take another look at the world, at God and at myself. Sometimes the images and the rhythms of language and imagination help me see beyond the surface of anxiety and anger and disrespect, just as the poetry of the hymns or the psalms help us to see God at a deeper level.
What if, this year, we reflected on the birth of Jesus in a similar way? Jesus is much more than a poem or an image, of course, but his life—fully God and fully human—calls us to see beyond the surface. We can be alert to seek out God’s purposes, the way of love, the offer of repentance and reconciliation, the commitment to justice to which each of us is called.
This Christmas, may we celebrate the birth of Jesus in such a way that we tune our hearts and minds to see God’s work in the world, and find our own place in that work.