Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Hope for the New Year

While it’s the end of 2010, in the church calendar we are in the middle of Christmas.  That means that when we look back at this year that is coming to an end, we in the church are looking back through the eyes of people who are celebrating the Incarnation. We stand in a place of comfort, joy, and hope, a place that celebrates the coming into the world of the true light that the darkness cannot overcome.

Looking back over this blog for the past year, there was a combination of information about what was happening to our environment along with posts that celebrated the ways we find God through the wonder of God’s creation and posts that talked about hope. Sometimes specific human actions, such as the 10/10/10 work day (see 10/10/10 and Gratitude and Grace),were signs of hope for us in the past year, and other times the hope was of a more subtle but more profound nature.

In July, there was a post called Hope talking about the feelings of peace and joy in God’s creation on a summer's morning and the hope those brought with them contrasted with the feelings of helplessness and discouragement brought on by the knowledge of our failure to care for creation and the despair those brought with them. Looking back at what has happened to our planet this past year from the perspective of Christmas brings up the same sort of contrast. The seeming disparity between our Christmas celebration and this information** is brought home in this video called Peace on Earth:

Where is hope and joy in this? The temptation to despair when faced with such information during Christmas must be similar to what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was facing when he wrote I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.  Longfellow’s response was to keep listening and hear that God is alive and “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail”; the response was to remember that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

This response doesn’t mean that we ignore the facts and indulge in fantasies that somehow the harmful effects of pollution, overuse of resources, and climate change will magically disappear. It does mean that we have the hope – and the promise -- of God being with us. The July post about hope ended with this:

Hope is not denial of reality. Hope is not pretending that our actions, the way we live our lives today, don’t have very sobering consequences. And hope is not thinking that God will suspend the laws of physics and chemistry and make those bad consequences miraculously disappear.

Hope is trust that God will be with us as we walk into the future we are creating. Hope is confidence that if we turn toward God, abandon our "arrogance and folly", and treat God’s creation with reverence, we have a future; hope says that no matter how difficult the future may be or how different from the present with its many comforts, our lives and our relationships with God, with one another, and with creation will still have meaning.

Gratitude can call us back to hope from despair. A beautiful summer’s morning in Nebraska can open our hearts to that gratitude that leads us to hope.

The beauty of the sun shining on the snow on New Year’s Eve in Nebraska and the wonder of Christmas can also open our hearts to gratitude that leads us to hope. 

Maybe 2011 will be the year that the world’s leaders begin to really understand what is happening on this planet and begin significant actions to ensure an environment in the future that can sustain human civilization. Or maybe the world’s leaders will continue to postpone and avoid the politically difficult decisions that action requires, and instead there will be enough grassroots understanding and effort – including the efforts of the church -- to make real progress. And maybe we will continue much as we have, with many people working very hard for the environment, but not enough to make a significant difference for our future. Whatever 2011 brings, God will be with us as walk through it.

**An update on the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (with the scientific consensus being that 350 ppm is the upper limit for a safe atmosphere for humans): at the end of November it was 388.59. The latest data from the Mauna Loa observatory can be found at CO2 Now.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

It’s Christmastime! We celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation with lots of appropriately embodied – incarnate – expressions of our joy: special foods, gathering with family and friends, the exchange of gifts, greenery and other decorations for our homes and churches. The sounds of Christmas music add to all of this.

The song “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” has become part of the Christmas repertoire, but I’ve been listening to it off and on since August, when this song I barely knew came into my head after I spent some time in the apple orchard at the St. Benedict Center. I wrote about that experience in a post called Apples and Manna . The sense of connection with God and of spiritual nourishment from that experience must be something like the mystical experience the original author of this song describes. While the song is often sung at a faster tempo, the words are very clear in this clip:

The Christmas Gospel from John (John 1:1-14) begins with a very abstract concept: “In the beginning was the Word…”, but ends with the Word becoming flesh, becoming incarnate, and coming to dwell among us. The unseen and ethereal God becomes visible and tangible.

The birth of Christ was the Incarnation, but opportunities for little experiences of the incarnation surround us. The wonders of God’s creation – the plants and animals, the rivers and hills, and the skies and land themselves – are constant signs of Emmanuel, God-with-us. 

Merry Christmas!