There are reasons to fear what is happening in our world. Democracy seems to be at growing risk. Violence is producing more and more refugees even as our world becomes more and more afraid of them (but what power do refugees really have to make us afraid)? The United States government is partially shut down over a wall – a wall to keep refuges out. Christians too are hesitant about, or resistant to, welcoming refugees who are fleeing for their lives. It seems that an anti- immigrant sentiment is growing around the world, including in Canada. Why are we so afraid?
Surely the Christmas story offers prospective and hope to this fear of refugees. The basic story line of Jesus has him being born in a stable in Bethlehem to poor parents, and almost immediately becoming a refugee in Egypt. Here are my thoughts.
What if – what if Egypt had built a border wall (I suppose if they could build pyramids, they could build a wall), or had met Joseph and Mary and Jesus with chariots and spears drawn. What if Egypt had said a loud “no” to this Jewish family, and sent they back into the cruel arms of King Herod? Would Jesus even have survived? Would there even be any “Christians” today?
What if – what if our Canadian government had said “no” to those fleeing for their lives from Russia in the 1920’s? I would not be here then. I am a Russian Mennonite whose father fled Siberia and was welcomed by Canada in 1927. Three of my uncles didn’t make it and were murdered. What if our government had closed its doors to my family, as it did to that ship of Jewish refugees in the 1940’s? We were, after all, German speaking – an enemy people, and we were from a Communist country, another enemy people. And we were Mennonites, a strange – and pacifist – sect of Christians. Would any of us who have a Russian Mennonite background even be here today?
What if – what if the indigenous peoples of North America had said “no” to us settler peoples, had not allowed us in. But how could they have known that we “whites” wouldn’t be satisfied with co-existence and partnership. How could they have known that many would be hell bent on control and domination. Would any of us “whites” even be here now if our earliest peoples had said “no” to us?
But there is a bigger what if. The above what ifs assume that we humans can control what happens in our world – the strong supposedly protecting those who are deemed weaker, but really solidifying their own power. The story of the birth of Jesus declares that God enters our world with vulnerability and love – a power far greater than all the armies and walls of the world. A few wise men, foreigners even if not refugees, thwart power mad Herod. The Egyptians (wouldn’t they have seen Jews as enemies?) did offer sanctuary to this Jewish family. God was protecting the vulnerable.
I confess that I do carry anxieties and fear about what is happening politically in the United States and here in Ontario. But I want to re-orient my spirit to the good news of the birth of Jesus – the Messiah. I want to hear the angels singing “Do not be afraid.” What if I would put my trust in God’s powerful love.
My wife is trying to persuade me to start writing blogs. “Writers write blogs,” she says,” so start doing what writers do”. But am I really a writer? I’m a retired pastor. I do admit that I have always enjoyed crafting and writing sermons. But surely people don’t want sermons as blogs.
My grade 12 English teacher saw no hope at all in my writing ability. I thought I had written a cute, creative piece. It came back covered in red. Likewise my first essay in college. I must have been sleeping through all the classes where I was supposed to learn the rules of grammar and good English. And yet there has been an urge within me to write, to express myself in words, to find a way to push myself to try to articulate feelings and ideas and faith.
Last week I was asked to preach the sermon at our church. My first impulse was to go to my file of old Advent sermons. I have some dozens of them – over 50 years worth. So much easer to select and repeat. I couldn’t do it. I realized again that I love the writing – the wrestling with a text and a context, finding words and stories and images and emotional tones that might connect with a particular worshipping community. That is exhausting work, but also deeply satisfying.
I thought, when I retired from pastoral ministry, that my serious writing days were over. There was a sense of relief that I no longer needed to face the rather daunting task of writing sermons to meet Sunday morning deadlines - no matter that in the long run this had energized me. Now I could put my brain into neutral and just relax, and - do what?
'Tis my wife who reminded me that I have always enjoyed writing – she claims I am even rather good at it – and that I have considerable experience and insights into pastoral ministry and about what makes for a healthy relationship between pastor and congregation. These might even be worth writing about. “Why don’t you write another book”? If writing a sermon is always daunting, writing a book is just crazy daunting.
My emotions forcefully resisted the idea of starting another writing project. “Retirement is for relaxing – and doing nothing”. So, I relax and do nothing – and can’t stop thinking of scattered ideas that I might want to write about. Eventually I plunge into it, and a book eventually emerges. It even gets published.
And now my wife is encouraging me to start writing a blog. And I resist. And yet. . .?