By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
December 9, 2018
Scripture: Luke 3:2-6
I chose this scripture for today, for our Blue Christmas Observance because of its sense of distance: the difference between what is and what will be when the peace of God reigns in our world.
Here in our gospel reading, John the Baptist is crying out for the way to be made for Christ to come, and he does it by quoting words from the prophet Isaiah. These are words from a time in Israel’s history that was catastrophic. When Isaiah wrote these words, some 600 years before John and Jesus showed up on the scene, the people of Israel were devastated. Their country and city had been conquered by the Babylonians, their temple had been destroyed, their leaders had been exiled into a foreign land. People had died. Families were in mourning.
And in the midst of all that, Isaiah speaks these words of hope:
“Every valley shall be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill made low;
The uneven ground shall become level,
And the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the lord shall be revealed,
And all the people shall see it together
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:4-5)
John the Baptist chooses these words from his Jewish tradition to acknowledge the struggles and the longing for peace and justice and prosperity of the people in his time. In John’s time, too, there is a great distance, a great difference between what the people are experiencing and what God desires for God’s beloved ones.
They are a colonized people. They are being exploited by their Roman rulers with the help of sympathizers who have become wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor. They too are suffering. They too know that something drastic needs to change before the people experience the shalom (the peace and prosperity) that God promises.
John the Baptist comes to remind them of that promise of old: that God’s salvation would be revealed…that the coming of Christ would guarantee peace and comfort and prosperity. John trusted in the promise of old, just as we trust in the promise that though we are still waiting for the kingdom to come in fullness – it will come.
But we need a sign.
John was the sign for his people. He acknowledged to the people that there is struggle now – and that struggle is real. That struggle is so real. The struggle is like a mountain that looks impossible to cross. The struggle is like a valley that threatens to swallow you up alive. To make a mountain low and a valley level is no small task. John acknowledged the great gulf between what is and what could be, and he gave people hope.
God gives us signs today as well.
Last fall, about a year ago, one of our members, Kevin Olsen shared with me that his niece Holly and her husband Daniel experienced the death of their infant son, Owen. Having never experienced a loss of a child myself, I cannot say I know how that feels.
But I imagine that the grief following the loss of a child feels like a chasm that could swallow you up or a mountain that casts a shadow over every bright spot in the world. That kind of suffering is so far away from God’s desires for our lives.
For this Christmas, I wanted to get another ornament for our tree in honor of Owen. I’ve looked and looked for the perfect one, but I just hadn’t found it. I stood in Walmart last night in the Hallmark ornament section longer than most normal people would, hoping for the perfect baby or little boy themed ornament.
I stopped on a little sparkly snowman holding a candy cane with a sheepish grin. It was so sweet and so innocent looking that I knew it was the perfect one, reminding me of the preciousness of Owen’s sweet little life. The ornament wasn’t quite what I set out to find initially, but upon further inspection, the hat on the snowman said “Son.” The colors of it even match the red, white, and blue theme of our Christmas tree. Some things are just meant to be.
The holidays are filled with beauty, but also by an undeniable grief for so many people. Grief comes in many forms, and it doesn’t even always stem from the loss of a person. It could be the loss of intangibles such as marriages and careers. It could be someone mourning the loss of a parent’s precious memory or vitality. We never know the struggles other people may face this holiday season.
I just want to encourage you to choose kindness and love at all times and particularly this holiday season. I’ve spent a lot of time helping kids and families through the grieving process through volunteerism and work. I’ve also had to practice what I preach in my own life since we lost Owen. One of the things this has taught me is to encourage others to be gentle with themselves. If you need to say no, say no. If you need to stay home, stay home. And if you need to surround yourself with family, gather up the troops. And if you are someone supporting a grieving loved one, remember that your presence is a gift in itself.
Thank you, Holly — the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, across unimaginably towering mountains and bottomless valleys…reminding us that though the day is not today…one day, all flesh will see the salvation of God.
May it be so.