Today we hear two stories. One we know well.. A story set in the distant reaches of the Roman Empire. A story set in a time of oppression—both civil and religious. A story set in a time when violence stalked the land.
The other story we hear today is one most of us don’t know as well. It’s not part of our ordinary repertoire. It doesn’t appear in the Revised Common Lectionary. It, too, is a story set against a backdrop of violence. A story of conquest and obliteration. A story etched in hues of humiliation and disruption, illness, enslavement and death.
You and I, we hear these stories against the backdrop of our own stories set in a world not so different from the worlds that have preceded ours. We hear these stories amidst a clattering cacophony of voices playing to and exploiting our fears of the darkness in our own world, in our own lives.
We can all—everyone of us gathered here today—see and catalogue the darkness that enshrouds us, the darkness that sometimes overwhelms us . We scan our Facebook page, turn on the radio, watch the news, catch a glimpse of the newsfeeds that pop up on our smart phones and we see the arrogance, the meanness, the fear and the terror that seem to mark our days. We see the Herods of our day (both ours and theirs), the thugs and the bullies, bosses that intimidate, the powerful who abuse their power. We note the spate of gun violence and mass murders, the vituperativeness in social discourse, the rise of bad boys and bad girls on our national stage. In sadness we record our fear, our apprehension, our worry about what the future holds for our children.
In the midst of the darkness, in the midst of all our fear and anxiety and weariness, we hear the voice of Mary singing, “My sprit rejoices in God my savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day on all generations will call me blessed: the almighty has done great things for me and Holy is his name.
In the midst of all the hype and xenophobia that mark our public discourse, we hear La Virgen de Guadalupe say, “I will hear their weeping and their sorrows and will remedy and alleviate their sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.”
In this world of noise and bombast, terror and fear and the killing of the innocent, we witness Juan Diego called by Guadalupe to pick roses sprung up on a wintry hillside. We see him walk tentatively into the halls of power, unfurl his cloak, and spread those roses at the Bishop’s feet. And as he does, we hear the ground beneath the Bishop’s feet shift.
In the midst of all the meanness and bombasity, the chorus of “no’s” and “anti’s”, the clanging and clattering and clamoring of bellicose voices that poison our airwaves, we hear those stories and we remember that “seemingly ordinary lives can be imbued with the extraordinary spirit of God to transform the world.”1
So often folks look at all the bleakness, at the enormity of it all and wonder, “Will this ever change?” “What’s a person to do?” “Where is God?”
And we forget.
We forget that young woman from a backwater village in the distant reaches of the Roman Empire. We forget that peasant farmer sent off with a cloak full of roses. We forget that “ordinary lives can be imbued with the extraordinary spirit of God to transform the world.”
But it’s not always about extraordinary game-changing acts that change the course of history writ large. God is at work in ordinary moments in the ordinary lives of ordinary people like you and me.
Not long ago a friend told me about a story his mother often tells. A story of a time when she was hovering between life and death. A story set in the early days of World War Two. She had contracted a virulent case of tuberculosis. Eighteen months into her three-year stay in the TB ward, she was at her lowest point. Despairing of seeing another spring, she said to the nurse caring for her, “I wonder if there is green grass hidden under all that snow.” The nurse replied, “Hmm….” and went on about her work.
Thirty minutes later the nurse was back. Her cheeks red from the cold. Her hands dripping with melting snow. “You asked about the grass,” she said as she opened her hands. There in those cold wet hands was a clump of green grass. To this day, my friend’s mother claims that that clump of green grass made all the difference in the world. To this day, my friend’s mother attributes her recovery to the hope she found in that grass. The spirit of God transforming the world through the hands of a nurse willing to root through the snow in search of a clump of green grass. An ordinary moment in the ordinary life of an ordinary person.
And yet we are schooled to look at and for the extraordinary. Sometimes I wonder if in our focus on the extraordinary, in our focus on Christ coming again in glory, in our focus on the reign of God that is to come, we miss the possibility of the kingdom of God right here in our midst. And then again sometimes I wonder if in holding tight to God in the here and now—God in the already—we miss out on the promise that one day wolves really will lie down with lambs and swords really will be turned to ploughshares and justice really will roll down like water and righteousness like an every-flowing stream and peace really will prevail on earth.
May this then be our prayer from the darkness in our world and the darkness in our day:
Christ Jesus, come in glory. Christ Jesus, be born in us today. Christ Jesus, be our light in the darkness.
1"Ordinary Acts of Grace," Eric D. Barreto, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2015