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Advent and Christmas Celebration

Week 4, Friday: Love

 

Dennis Bratcher

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It's Not My Fault!

If we’re honest, we’ve all been guilty of it.  We’ve all been in those situations where we just assume that a problem that causes us frustration, anger, or even pain, has been created by someone else.  The driver who nearly causes a wreck because they turned right in front of me.  The utility company representative who insists that I have not paid last month’s electric bill, when it shows plainly in my checkbook that I wrote the check.   My son who left one of my best tools out in the rain to rust.  And of course, my wife who misplaced the keys to the family car and has no idea where they are.

Then after I calm down a little, I realize that the reason the driver turned in front of me was because I had not noticed the stop sign that I just drove through!  A couple of days later I found last month’s utility payment buried in a pile of papers on my desk, all stamped and ready to mail.  After a little venting at my son, it slowly dawns on me that I had worked on the lawnmower the day before and left the tool on the lawn myself.  And now I have to apologize to my wife because I just found the car keys in the pocket of my work pants at the bottom of the laundry hamper.

We human beings have a tendency to assume that we are not to blame for problems.  It must have been someone else’s fault.  An increasing problem in our modern culture is the failure to take responsibility for decisions, actions, and attitudes.  It is just too easy to shift the blame to someone else.

Hope and possibility are at the heart of Christmas, and rightly so. Yet, in the midst of all the positive emphasis at this time of year, perhaps we need to hear one final reflection on our responsibility, on how we might have failed and so brought about the need for hope.  In that recognition, it might give us a clue how to respond when that hope is realized.

After Israel returned from captivity and exile in Babylon they waited for God to return everything like it was before they left.  They anticipated a new golden age like that of David or Solomon where they would be secure, prosperous, and the envy of all the nations. 

But it didn’t happen.  They were faced with hardship, poverty, famine, hostile neighbors, and new threats from new emerging empires.  Of course, they assumed that the fault lay with the sinful people that threatened them, with the priests and religious leaders who were not doing their job well.  They even accused God of not living up to what he had promised them.

And yet, the Scripture reading from Isaiah 59 places the blame squarely on the people themselves.

59:1 See, the Lord's hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 59:2 Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

They have not experienced the presence of God, the prophet says, because their own failure to be the people of God had created barriers between them and God.  Yet, the prophet goes on to say that even the failure of the people would not prevent God from exercising grace and coming to them (59:16ff).

While we celebrate the hope and possibility that God bring into the world in Jesus, there is always the overtone of responsibility and accountability that accompany the Coming.  Much of the hopelessness that made the Coming needed was the fault of human failure and sin.  Yet God came anyway.  Still, the implication is that God had not come just to provide Hope, but that He has come so that we might respond to him in faithfulness and righteousness.

In just two days we will celebrate the unmitigated grace of God in the Coming of Jesus, the embodiment of hope and possibility.  But in the back of our minds as we celebrate such love is the knowledge that we human beings can take hope and kill it, that we can take love and squander it, that we can take possibility into dead ends.

 ~ Dennis Bratcher
Salt Lake City, UT

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Today's Scripture Readings*
[Psalm 93, 96] [Isaiah 59:1-15a] [Galatians 3:15-22] [Luke 1:67-80]

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O Lord, forgive us for our tendency to blame everyone but ourselves for our problems.  Forgive us for our failures and our sins that create dead ends in our world.  Thank you for working among us in spite of our failures.  We are thankful that you have not abandoned us because we have sometimes abandoned you.

Dear God, help us this Christmas not only to experience your grace and love as embodied in this Child of Bethlehem, but to allow you to transform us by that grace and love into a new creation.  Enable us by the power of your Holy Spirit, truly to become your people, to live in the world in ways that also embody and en-flesh your love.  Make us what we can be by your grace.  Amen.

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*These readings are adapted from the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer, Year 2.  For Year 1 readings, see Daily Readings, Advent 1.

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