LET THIS BE OUR GOAL IN 2016
A number of years ago, a volume of Weavings, a journal of the Christian spiritual life, contained an article by Flora Slossen Wuellner, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. In her article, she shared how she was startled, while visiting a southern California mission, to see in an old Spanish crèche the wood-carved figure of Satan; he was standing nonchalantly among the sheep, the shepherds, camels and wise men. Satan was standing at the back of the crèche, but he was unmistakably present, complete with horns and tail. The priest at the mission explained that, more often than not, the figure of Satan was placed in the crèche in old Hispanic tradition.
When I first read her article, and glanced at the accompanying picture of a wood-carved figure of Satan standing in a crèche, I found it disturbing. For most of us, to come unsuspecting upon a crèche that includes the figure of Satan would be disturbing. It does not fit with what we have come to expect of a manger scene where “all is calm and all is bright.” Please remove that red, wood-carved figure of Satan with its horns and tail from the crèche; that is not where it belongs!
But the more I pondered the image, the more disturbingly fitting it appeared. In this one scene, figures representing light and darkness, good and evil, love and the force bent on preventing love, defeating love, generating hatred and hostility, selfishness and greed. It struck me that when we put the devil in the crèche, it feels more like the world in which we live: a world in which Mother Teresa and her sisters, and Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, simultaneously pursue their visions of life. The sisters pursue a vision of the kingdom of God, by humbling themselves before God in love and service to the least and the lost; the soldiers pursue a vision of an expanding Iraq, by elevating themselves through violence and killing in their pursuit of power and wealth. When we put the devil in the crèche, it feels more like the world in which we live: the world in which Albert Schweitzer and Adolf Hitler simultaneously pursue their life’s work. Schweitzer commits his life to the cause of healing and serving the poorest of the poor; Hitler commits his life to expanding the power and territory of Germany and exterminating what he deems to be the inferior races.
When we put the devil in the crèche, it feels more like the cities in which we live, cities where all is not calm and all is not bright: Paris, France; San Bernardino, California; Ferguson, Missouri. It feels more like New York City where Wall Street bankers, consumed with greed, engage in fraudulent practices that leave elderly citizens devoid of pensions. It feels more like the cities throughout the nations of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Libya, cities in which Isis and Al Qaeda continue their march of terror, and hatred, and killing. When we put the devil in the crèche, it feels more like the cities in which we live, cities in which some people lovingly feed and clothe and shelter the homeless, while others unleash hatred and violence and death.
And, truth be told, when we put the devil in the crèche, it feels more like my life, and I imagine, more like your life. For is it not true, that we can be both self-giving and self-centered, both peaceful and hostile, both loving and refusing to love, both forgiving and refusing to forgive? Is it not true that our lives, like our cities and our world, contain both light and darkness? Is it not true that our lives, like our cities and our world, continue to be a battleground for the forces of good and evil? Our lives are not all love and light! Christ’s light and love must still contend with the force of darkness that would prevent love, defeat love, generate hatred and hostility, selfishness and greed, in our lives, in our cities, and in our world.
The good news is that God is Love! The good news is that God will be victorious in the end. The good news is that Christ, the Word of God become flesh, has already fought and won the ultimate battle with evil. Evil works to prevent love, to defeat love, to generate hatred and hostility, selfishness and greed. Evil did its worst, but Christ overcame evil with good; he overcame evil with redeeming love. Evil had Jesus beaten, whipped, mocked and crucified, but Jesus did not allow evil to prevent his love. Jesus did not allow evil to defeat his love, God’s love. That is how he could hang on the cross and pray: “Father, forgive them!”
According to Jesus, the good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand, and the kingdom of God is where love reigns. “The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us; he came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” To be sure, it is fitting that the devil is in the crèche, for the devil is in the world. However, through Christ, we have received power to become children of God, God who is Love. Through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we overcome the power of evil that seeks to prevent love, defeat love, to generate hatred and hostility, selfishness and greed. “God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them.” As far as we know, Jesus never left Palestine; but the Spirit of Jesus spread throughout the world, as the church, in the power of the Spirit, became the bearer of his Life, his Light, and his Love. Let this be our goal for the New Year: to be the bearers of the Life, the Light, and the undefeatable Love of Jesus Christ!