Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent
At Christmas we celebrate birth and rejoice that God became incarnate in human flesh. It is not a celebration meant only for the birth that happened 2000 years ago, but for all the ways God is being birthed in us and in our world right now.
Unfortunately, we are highly imperfect midwives. As Isaiah cries out, all flesh is grass-life is a perishable, fragile, and temporary gift-and we are not born with manuals on how to live it. Sometimes, rather than effectively embodying Christ in the world, we go astray like sheep wandering from the fold. Other times, we not only remain in the fold but participate in casting out the "black sheep", clustering together, fortifying the walls and becoming "safe" and exclusive.
Luckily, we have a God who goes out and does whatever it takes to find and embrace the lost, frightened, marginalized, and confused. In fact, if I lock others out, I may find that Jesus is no longer with me in the safety of my fold. He left to go out searching for that lost sheep, and would really appreciate my help. I think that is part of what Pope Francis is teaching us recently. We need to be less judgmental and exclusive, more pastoral and inclusive. We need to worry less about those who belong and more about those who wonder whether their voice can be heard inside the gates.
I have found that, like most of Christian life, this is harder than it sounds. In some ways, I’ve made progress. I no longer believe I need to avoid people who do not share my deeply held beliefs or views. Instead, as I truly listen and engage in respectful debates, I have often been amazed at what I’ve learned. Sometimes I grow in my own conviction. Other times their arguments show me how I need to change. Often the debate ends with the agreement to disagree, yet I grow in understanding and appreciation for the other person and their thoughts and beliefs.
Lest I congratulate myself too heartily, though, I must admit I still have a long way to go toward the ideal of listening, embracing, and including. It is especially difficult to achieve in situations where the other person refuses to be respectful, or where I am the one being cast out, or when someone has hurt me. And it is never easy when our disagreements run deep. At these times I am challenged to the core.
Yet, as the prophet says, we are called to give comfort to God’s people and join Jesus in reaching out to everyone. This Advent season, I pray for the wisdom to know how to do that more effectively. I pray for the grace to see with God’s eyes, love without so many conditions and expectations, eat with sinners, go beyond my comfort zone, and give rather than receive. If I can do that, it may even open hearts (mine and theirs) so that God can make the path straight, fill in the valleys, and bring new life. Perhaps, even with this highly imperfect midwife, God can still be born again in our world.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.