December 8, 2017

Advent 2017

"Living One's Faith in Challenging Times" 


 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...full of grace and truth. (John 1:4) 

When I was a child, I often heard older adults complain about change. Even my beloved grandmother "Mam," usually a sturdy soul with an optimistic outlook, complained about change. Born in 1880, she lived to see the invention of automobiles, airplanes, air conditioning, television, and the space program, all of which she found agreeable. Even so, she worried about change. When I was ten or so, I resolved to remember that change can also be positive, and for a chunk of my life I often made good on my vow. This year, however, I've been derailed, for even in the rosiest of lights, 2017 has been a bumpy year. The question that has nagged me these last months is: as someone who claims to be a Christian, how should I live my faith in challenging times? Simultaneously, in company with other church members, I wonder where God will lead us during this transition period. 

With these questions playing in the background, I recently happened on a short video and brief written meditation, The Risk of the Incarnation, by Parker Palmer. Palmer, a retired academic, a Quaker, and a writer/commentator on faith, speaks about the gift and the reality of the Incarnation, of Word becoming flesh. He begins by saying that this idea has helped shape his writing, his teaching, and indeed his whole life, however imperfectly. The Christmas story, he points out, is "simple and human." God took the risk of showing up among us as a human baby. And because of that great gift, we too are called to be Incarnational people. We are called to be transformed, to be born again and anew as our truest selves. We are called to embody the good words Jesus has given us, words like "love," "peace," and "forgive." We are called to live the Incarnation in our own lives. 

 As I listened, I was moved. I took encouragement and inspiration from hearing Parker Palmer's words, as I have on other occasions. I was also humbled. I realized how easy it is for me to love and value the Word without truly living the faith. No verse in all of scripture has such importance to me as "The Word became flesh." But I fail every day to live fully in the reality of those words. After listening to this meditation, I have some new questions to think about in the midst of changes and challenging times. What are the good words you and I need to embody? As we wait "in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord," how can we love and encourage each other more? What word, what reality is waiting to be born in us - individually and corporately - so that we might carry out God's will? 

In the words of a beloved and familiar carol written by Phillips Brooks 150 years ago, "O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today." 

 -- Ashley Williams

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