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Practicing peace this Christmas season

Joyce Shutt
Pastor emeritus
Fairfield Mennonite Church

(12/8) I was listening to the radio the other day and heard this amazing statement. "There is no justice; just revenge or love." The speaker went on. "Justice is supposed to right a wrong, but thatís impossible. We canít un-murder or un-rape someone. We canít un-abuse a child, un-lynch a victim. We canít undo the effects of slavery, racism, religious phobias, or wars. There is no justice, no way to right the wrongs of the past. In the end, we are left with two basic options, revenge or love. Learning the lessons of the past. Moving on to something better." Isnít that the gist of the angelís message to the shepherds, "Let it go, my friends. Peace on earth to men of good will?"

So here we are in the middle of the Christmas season. After this year of mass shootings, terrorist attacks, tweet storms, and political chaos, I am ready to let go of our culture of revenge and self-aggrandizement. What can we lose by listening to the angelís message and trying something new like loving our enemies, practicing inclusiveness, cooperation, compromise, sharing, non-violence, forgiveness? Iím too old and impatient to get caught up in that squishy permissive love of Christmas cards and manger scenes. Iím ready for a radical, respectful, life changing love that requires give and take, logical consequences for crimes and misdeeds instead of punishment and revenge, helping people get back on their feet after hard times. Jesus stuff.

Louise Murphy in her beautiful little book The true story of Hansel and Gretel ends with the witch Magda saying, "Truth is no heavier, no more beautiful than lies. Yet there is something that makes me love the truth, and that love made me wander and worry until the truth was given to you, like a gift. For this, in the end, is all we have. The love of something."

The love of something. Isnít that what we long for? Isnít that what Christmas is about? The love of something that gives meaning to life? The love of something upon which we can plant our feet, our faith, our hope? The love of something strong enough to forgive the unforgivable? The love of something that motivates us to let go of our anger, hatred, bitterness, fear? The assurance that life is not just "sound and fury signifying nothing? The assurance that love is stronger than hate and beauty greater than ugliness? That presents and parties, however enjoyable canít replace loving caring respectful relationships? Isnít this what we long for in this Christmas and holiday season? Something bigger, better than ourselves? The love of something?

Our theme for Advent at Fairfield Mennonite is "Let it Be Unto me" based on Mary's response to the angel Gabriel when he tells her she is going to have a baby out of wedlock. "Let it be unto me as you have said," she responds. Thatís an amazing response given the culture of her times.

I don't see Mary as the sweet, obedient, co-dependent person the church has wanted us women to accept and model ourselves after. I see her as a trouble maker, a rule breaker, a feisty female loyal to a higher calling. After all, anyone who is as politically outspoken as she was is no patsy. It takes guts to have a child at any time out of wedlock in any culture, let alone a child designated as The Messiah, the Son of God! And then there are all those others in the Christmas narratives who demonstrate courage and imagination: Joseph who defies the norms by refusing to stone Mary and marry her, the shepherds who are not completely freaked out by angel visitations, the wise men who are really gutsy scientists and go looking for hope for their broken world.

So what is this story telling us about ourselves and this period of history in which we find ourselves? Are we to continue bickering and fussing at each other like a bunch of spoiled brats or is God calling us to a new way to be a people and a country? Unlike Mary who is just a kid and full of energy, I am older and rather worn down by life, way past my prime. Burned out, wrung out, worn out, but still unwilling to curl up my toes and retire to my rocking chair. I figure that as long as I am breathing I still have a lot of learning, living, doing, caring, advocating, loving, needling, sharing, and contributing to the well being of others yet to do. I can be like Elizabeth, another strong woman, but without the late life baby, thank you very much.

In other words, opting out of life and response-ability is not really an option, because God is going to hound us until we say "let it be unto me as you have said," so we might as well do what we can to make this world a better place for ourselves and others. After all, isn't that the gist of this story? Not waiting for others to take the lead? Doing our part however big or small? Isn't this what God wants from each of us? To put feet to this Serenity Prayer thing, this spirit of Christmas thing? No matter where we are, what we are doing, how young or old we are, each of us is called to be a decent human being, to pay it forward to the best of our ability, to let go of the political partisanship, religious and racial bigotry and social venom eating us alive, and instead do random acts of kindness, practice gratitude, be generous, help others, especially those we least understand or like... In other words, "Let it be unto me as you have said" motivated by the love of something, someone, everyone, God.

Read past sermons by Pastor Joyce Shutt