6 Dec 2015
“This is my prayer that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best.” (Philippians 1:9-10a) In the name …
I get the Boston Globe delivered on Sundays. Last week one full section of the paper was dedicated to train travel. Not so much about how it is now, but how it could be in the not too distant future. Last year we took the train from Springfield to Erie, PA for a synod. It wasn’t pleasant. There were so many delays that it was impossible for them to stay anywhere near on schedule. That’s frustrating, and it’s also impractical for a lot of travelers. But the Globe devoted an entire section of their newspaper to train travel because the United States is developing into a country based on megaregions. In the next few decades 70% of our population and our jobs will be located in these connected metropolitan areas, and a huge problem is moving these tens of millions of people around.
On Friday, Sharon and I are going out to Boston for a couple of days. We get there, park the car, then walk everywhere. I love going to cities, but I hate driving in them. There are too many cars on the roads. I can see where road rage starts. I’d go nuts if I had to drive like that every day. It’s an inconvenience now, but as these cities grow, it’s going to become impossible to move. And some very smart people in engineering, government, manufacturing and finance are coming together and producing some really cool ideas. One of them has trains moving at over 700mph. Believe it or not these ideas are actually starting to move off the drawing board and into the real world. Sometimes things have to get really bad before something really cool can make hope real again.
That’s what I see in the coming birth of Jesus. That’s something I try to think about during Advent as a way to prepare to celebrate this wondrous mystery of God becoming one of us. The most surprising news in the Globe was that these amazing possibilities can be real, and maybe even in my own lifetime. When I think about Jesus as bringing the fullness of God into our world in an ordinary human being, that fills me with hope. More hope than if God had come in a more godly fashion with supernatural powers in full display. That would have said a lot about God, but it wouldn’t have offered us much hope that we can make a difference in our world for the better. Advent is God’s revelation about Himself, but also about us, and that should fill us with hope.
This is why we can’t let Christmas degenerate into anything less than the celebration of Jesus’ birth as us. I get the Whately Congregational Church’s newsletter and in this current issue their pastor, Rev. Cynthia, talks about going into several craft stores looking for the materials to make a manger scene. Everywhere she went, she writes in her newsletter, there were craft kits for snowmen and santas, but she couldn’t find one for a manger. Last weekend one of the newspaper cartoons showed a husband coming in with the Sunday newspaper. Everyone is in pajamas, which to a priest means this is another Sunday for a family without church. The paper is thick; it’s filled with Christmas ads. The wife sorts through all of the fliers proclaiming “holiday $ale” with the s replaced with a dollar sign. The three kids are giddy with expectation: “I want thi$, and thi$, and thi$.” And again all of the s’s are replaced with dollar signs. As the mother sits back on the coach in resignation she says, “I’ll be happy when the holiday $ea$on is over,” again with the dollar sign s’s. Well, to me, if you don’t teach your kids about church and Christ, if you settle for holiday season instead of Christmas, then why should she be surprised that Christmas is about dollar signs? I get the impression that people are finally sick and tired of all the stuff that has become Christmas. Too often it’s not even about giving; it’s just about stuff. And maybe it’s become so bad that like with the trains we’ll start to think big again, and nothing is bigger than the Christmas mystery that Jesus came as one of us.
This is one of the reasons why we’re going to celebrate the Feast of Divine Love on Tuesday. Way back in the fifth century a church teacher by the name of Augustine came up with the idea of predestination. He so wanted to protect the all-powerfulness of God that he insisted that God controlled everything. He actually wrote: “For the Almighty sets in motion even in the innermost hearts of men the movement of their will, so that He does through their agency whatsoever He wishes to perform through them.” I know Augustine is trying to protect God’s power, but doesn’t this make God responsible for sin and evil? There are arguments batted around that say otherwise, but if God controls my will, even to the point of doing something evil, isn’t God the one responsible and not me? This then led Augustine to teach that God chooses to save whomever He wants and to condemn whomever He wants.
Our church rejects this entire, preposterous notion. We don’t talk about inherited original sin nor of God commandeering our free wills. We see creation as presented in Genesis as the act of God’s love. We see in the story of Christmas and that Jesus came as one of us the story that human life is a wondrous gift full of potential. Christmas teaches that Jesus was born fully human. If He is not burdened by all of those dreary ideas of Augustine like the rest of us, then if we believe in original sin and predestination, then He’s not us. But if Jesus is us without the ideas of inherited sinfulness and predestination, then human life is a gift from God because in Jesus God was us. Again, maybe things have to get really bad before we turn to the really bold ideas that can give us hope once more. And maybe now is the time that the world is ready to hear again about the story of Jesus, that He came to bring God into our world and to convince us yet again of who we can be and what we can do if we’re faithful enough to think big enough to realize what Christmas can really mean. That this may be part of our Advent preparation, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo
 On Grace and Free Will, Vol. 5 of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: St. Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings, series 1, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 19878), p. 41