Last Saturday afternoon, while walking downtown among crowds of tourists and Christmas shoppers, I saw and heard:
An older couple fussing with each other about what to do next. They were coming out of Mast General Store. He had a huge bag in each hand. She pointed to the stores on Biltmore Avenue they’d not yet been in, and made it clear to him that she intended to keep shopping. He plainly said that he wanted to get the car and go home. Later, I saw him sitting by himself on a bench in Pack Square, bags nestled around him.
A little girl, maybe two years old, dissolve into tears. She was dressed like a princess and riding in a fancy stroller more expensive than my first car. She had thrown her cupcake on the sidewalk, because it had white icing instead of chocolate. Her father, beside the stroller, said some things that a princess shouldn’t hear. Pushing the stroller was the princess’ mother; she wore a Christmas sweater and a forced smile. She had the weary look of someone whose fantasy of a perfect family day had just evaporated. Ironically (you can’t make these things up), a street musician, squeakily playing a saxophone, was just finishing “Silent Night”: “Sleep in heavenly peace.”
It’s also ironic that, during this season, we sing about peace while storm-clouds of violence and fear darken the horizon. War. A billion people in abject poverty. Inner city schools, where despair has overtaken both students and educators. Racism, sexism, and classism.
In the face of such overwhelming problems, I feel paralyzed. They’re too big for me to do anything about.
But, the problems are not too big for Jesus, and he isn’t powerless to change them. He announced and enacted a peaceable kingdom in the face of imperial violence and oppression. He called for mercy in a land governed by merciless tyrants. He was executed by a conspiracy of elite religious and political powerbrokers.
Then, God raised Jesus from the dead, a declaration that life is stronger than the death and love is mightier than fear. Through Jesus, God has unleashed resurrection power in the world, and God is at work for freedom, wholeness, and peace.
The work we do for the sake of justice and mercy, however modest, becomes part of God’s restless determination to heal us and the world. It expresses and intensifies the resurrecting, recreating, and redeeming power of God. Somehow (I don’t know how), God gathers and uses our prayers and our deeds: nothing born of love is ever lost. That’s the good news: Hope endures. Peace triumphs. Love wins.
It’s the gospel for the great problems of our world and for our everyday and ordinary lives, lives in which harmony disappears when a toddler throws her cupcake on the ground and conflict arises between a tired husband and a shop-till-you drop wife. It’s the gospel for all of us who live in a whirlwind of busyness and anxiety.
A few years ago, as I ran breathlessly from one thing to another, a friend asked: “Do you think Jesus wants you to live the way you’re living?” The question made me angry, but it also made its way to my heart. I said, in a moment of realization I keep coming back to: “No. Jesus is not my problem. My problem is the relentless demands I’ve placed on myself and the endless expectations of others.”
After all, Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
What Jesus wants from us is what he wants for us: a way of life that is graceful, grateful, hopeful, and peaceful.