Let us Go See This Thing

This last week, most improbably there stood before Congress Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine.  He spoke of his gratitude for the aid and moral support the American people had given his nation.  He spoke of the suffering they were currently enduring in freezing temperatures and darkness.

Here, in part is what President Zelenskyy told us:

“We’ll celebrate Christmas. Celebrate Christmas and, even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian — if Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. And we don’t, don’t have to know everyone’s wish, as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: Victory. Only victory.”[1]

It was an electrifying moment.

Only a short few months ago, we all looked on Ukraine as a hopeless cause.  Another instance of a brave people losing a struggle against overwhelming odds against a ruthless foe.  Sad, but inevitable.  The way of the world.

It is into this world that a small child lay in a cradle, huddled against bitter cold.  Shepherds keeping watch, alerted to the impending mystery, gather themselves together.  And set out to see what new ray of hope shines in the darkness of another autocrat’s darkness. 

“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And isn’t that the yearning of each of us, to see some ray of hope, to see a sliver of light in our darkened world?

That is what all the decorations are about.  That is what the gathering of friends and family is about.  “Let us go see this thing which the Lord has made known to us.”

As the old year closes, our nation closes a chapter on one of the most sordid episodes of our history.  It’s not the first time we have had a brush with autocracy.  The first came in the 1930’s when a radical Catholic priest incited millions across the airwaves to accept the fascist alternative.  Fr. Coughlin and others were deep into a plot, fomented and financed by agents of Hitler, to overthrow our democracy.  Check out Rachel Maddow’s podcast, Ultra.  A book and film are in the works.

With the report of the January 6th Committee in our hands, we have the documentation of just how close we came this time to suffering a coup to overthrow our democracy.  This modern-day Herod was willing to do just about anything to retain the power of the presidency.  Even to the murder of police officers.

“Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me,” was the Former Guy’s ask of former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.[2]  When it became clear that Rosen would not go along with this cockamamie idea, the Former Guy planned to fire him and install a toady, Jeffrey Clark, who would do his bidding. 

But democracy’s light, brilliant as that Star of Epiphany, cut through the darkness of this nefarious plot.  Virtually all top employees threatened to resign en masse should that happen. 

“Let us go see this thing” that has preserved our democracy and rule of law.  If not all, at least some of the time almost nine hundred pages — or at least take time to read the summary, or catch pieces of it on your nightly news.  Read it.  Scan it.   It’s bipartisan.  It’s shocking.  It’s on the mark.  This witness to the truth, to the values of self-rule is surely the Lord’s doing. 

“Let us go to [our local newsstand] and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  For all those who have given witness to these events, we will return to our homes and factories “glorifying and praising God for all [we] have seen…”

Yes, the events leading up to that moment were dastardly.  Pardons were sought for the many malefactors in Congress who had aided and abetted the plot.  Yet, the vision of free and fair elections prevailed.  The line held.

Christmas light does shine in the darkness yet in 2022, reaching far into 2023 and beyond.

This light shines upon Adnan Syed, recently released from prison after serving 23 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  The DNA evidence proved his innocence.  The prosecutor, upon uncovering new evidence, proclaimed his innocence.  And numerous others have worked long and hard since 2014 to assert his innocence.

He walked out of the courtroom on September 14th a free man, restored to his family.  This December he was hired by Georgetown University as a program associate for the university’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.  Now, 41, Adnan begins a life of hope.   December’s Christmas goodness indeed!

“To go from prison to being a Georgetown student and then to actually be on campus on a pathway to work for Georgetown at the Prisons and Justice Initiative, it’s a full circle moment,” Syed said in the university’s announcement. “PJI [Prisons and Justice Initiative] changed my life. It changed my family’s life. Hopefully I can have the same kind of impact on others.”[3]

It’s only one man you may say.  That’s true.  But as George Regas would always remind us, “Keep your eyes on the prize but celebrate the incremental victories along the way.”

See this thing that the Lord has done.  The light of that man will only grow in luminosity. 

Let us see the work this freed man can now do, turning the lessons of his tragic past into inspiration and perseverance to free others.  Let us see this thing the Lord has done and rejoice.

It is this Christmas goodness, this Christmas hope which drew those shepherds to that rude manger in Bethlehem.  Christmas serendipity for all who attend to the angels’ annunciation.

By the way, Bethlehem translates as “House of Bread.”  That is the announcement of the angels on high, that is the promise of Christmas goodness.  The real and true Wonder Bread offered to all.

In a recent op ed piece, Peter Wehner reminds us of the truth of our faith, something we have always known deep down – the bedrock of Christianity is not moral purity, true doctrine or right ritual – it is about relation.  Jesus commanded, “Love one another as I have loved you.”[4]  That is the lodestone.

When Christianity is stripped of love, it “becomes a religion characterized by hard edges and judgmentalism, by brittleness and moral arrogance, by mercilessness and gracelessness.  Those who claim to be followers of Jesus but behave in this way become not his friends but his enemies.”[5]

At the manger we are invited into a relationship.  That’s what babies are all about.  That is why Christianity is not so much taught as caught.  We’ve all know people whose faith bubbles up in joy and service.  They have upheld us in times of grief and doubt, in times of despair and when forlorn.  They are the bread of life, baked freshly from the House of Bread.

As those Wise Visitors following that Star of Brilliance left their gifts, we too offer the best we have at the manger.

Today as in yesteryear, that original nativity brilliance yet breaks through in the lives of all who have fallen in love with the small Christ Child.  As that child has come to maturity in the lives of grown believers, their works of mercy and justice give testimony to its goodness in our day.

We too would exclaim, “Gloria in Excelsis – Peace on Earth to All of Good Will.”  Amen.  And, P.S., Happy New Year!

[1] Full Transcript of Zelensky’s Speech Before Congress, New York Times, December 22, 2022.

[2] Kevin Breuninger, “Jan. 6th Hearing: “Trump told DOJ officials, “Just Say it was Corrupt and Leave the Rest to me,” CNBC live blog tracking Thursday’s hearing of the House Jan. 6 select committee, June 23, 2022.

[3] Brian Witte, “Adnan Syed hired by Georgetown’s prison reform initiative,” AP, December 23, 2022.

[4] John 15.

[5] Peter Wehner, “Jesus Loved Friendship,” New York Times, December 24, 2022.

January 1, 2023, Christmas 2

“Let us Go See This Thing”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney, St. Francis Episcopal Mission

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21

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