A Christmas Message of Hope for a Cynical World

 Photo by  Sweta Meininger  on  Unsplash

After the shooting in the Baptist Church in Texas a couple of months ago, my 14-year-old son remarked, "I know I'm supposed to feel terrible about this, but I can't. There have been so many shootings this year. It's like, 'Myeh. Another shooting.'"

It would sound callous if it weren't so true. My son's remark seems typical of many I've heard this year from family members, friends, colleagues, and parishioners.

I think it's not cliché to say "more than ever," people feel like they don't recognize their world as they used to know it. More disconcerting than that, even, is they don't recognize themselves in their levels of cynicism and hopelessness.

To many ears, "Joy to the World" feels about as real and dependable as Santa Claus.

Preachers Are Not Immune

After personally enduring Hurricane Harvey, I look at my fellow Houstonians and see six million people, many of whom are preparing for Christmas, while suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Children run to their parents each time it rains to ask, "Is Harvey coming back?"

Money is nonexistent for many whose promised insurance payments haven't arrived.

The issues to solve rainwater runoff in a metro the size of Rhode Island defy description and anyone's most outlandish budget predictions.

And worst of all, families whose loved ones died in the catastrophe face their first Christmas without them.

Preachers in Houston are no less affected by Harvey than those to whom they preach, as are preachers proclaiming Good News in the wake of the hurricanes and fires that have ravaged so many states and territories this year.

In fact, we're all affected—or, like my son, feeling affected by not feeling affected—by the natural disasters, multiple shootings and rampages, and level of civil discord in 2017.

2017's extraordinary eruption of events has taken its toll on our own hearts and psyches and spirits. We preachers are not immune.

Where do we look for signs of hope—for signs that God has not "left the building..." or us?

Signs of Hope? Yes...But.

Certainly God has been in acts of healing and kindness after each disaster and mass murder.

I can point to countless acts of bravery, good will, and kindness that Houstonians and Americans showered on each other and us across the region during and after our literal rains.

I can also point to the blessed Lutheran pastor who rushed up the road to offer pastoral care this year after the shooting in the Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas...the same way he rushed up the road to offer pastoral care after the shootings in 1999 at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado.

In each and every one of those acts, God showed up in our midst—God-with-Us, powerfully and lovingly—and I am grateful for and find hope in them all.

But recognizing hope in retrospect is easier than daring to hope in an uncertain future.

It's easier to find God afterwards when everyone is pitching in and helping each other regardless of race or creed.

How do we look to hope when we look ahead?

Hidden, Maybe, but that Don't Mean It Ain't There

During and after Harvey—whether people were rich or poor; black, white, or brown; liberal or conservative; Bible, Koran, Torah, or "None"—when people were drowning, we helped. We didn't get fussy about differences. We just did our best to get people what they needed.

Someone needed a boat? Someone else paddled up in theirs. Someone needed shelter? Christians were grateful to sleep warm, dry, and fed in a mosque. Someone needed a case of clean water? Someone from a blue state sent a convoy of it to those in a red one.

Here's the extraordinary thing we saw post-Harvey, but we all see it post-every natural disaster and crisis: we pitch in and help anyone and everyone.

Why? Because underneath skin color, country of origin, voting bent, or religious practice, we really do care about each other.

When we're drowning, we see the other person drowning, too. We see a person suffering, like us. We see a vulnerable human in the same desperate need of God's rescue and redemption, and our compassion can't be kept down.

It's true that after the initial crisis we get "back to (ab)normal" and redraw our class, education, religious, and natural disaster border lines. Yet those initial, after-disaster moments show us what's more true and more real: a glimpse of love on earth as it is in heaven.

We can see each other as God sees us.

By God's grace, we are capable of seeing each other as people in need, as people in need of hope, as people in need of saving with Christ's compassion, care, kindness and respect. We see this same trend over and over and over.

In between disasters, we may act like we're not capable, and act tough and try to protect our hearts from feeling others' suffering. But the truth is, God is deeper and more pervasive than our fear, self-protection, or cynicism. We see God's same trend over and over and over again, too.

The most remarkable signs of God-with-Us are not so much what we do in those immediate, post-disaster moments, crucially important as they are. It's not so much the amount of clothing or water or shelter donated, or pastoral care offered, that gives us hope.

It's more that, for a little while, we see each other as we truly are: human beings in need.

We see. We recognize. We love.

Seeing, recognizing, loving. That is God-with-Us.

We show each other in those unguarded moments of crisis that we are able shift our focus to see each other as God sees us. We prove to ourselves that cynicism, hopelessness, and fatalism isn't our base human nature.

God-Within-Us is truly our base nature...and that gives me hope, even for protracted disasters like our civil discord.

Underneath it all, then, we can look in every moment of our uncertain future for the basis of Hope: at the root of our nature, is God-within-Us.

Merry Christmas and a Hopeful 2018, to You, my Fellow Preacher, and to all who listen to you preach.


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