Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hope, Peace, Love, Joy??!

Sometimes churches use hope, peace, love, and joy as major themes of Advent. I know Christ is the answer, or expectation of those different themes which are typically joined to a given Sunday prior to Christmas. Funny thing- I bet we struggle more with the order of the themes, and which Sunday they line up with, than actually experiencing hope, peace, love, and joy!

This year I find myself drawn to a somewhat different Advent practice. Rather than only focusing on MY experience of this (which is one critical element of Christmas preparation but not the only) I'm trying to imagine how someone in inner city Augusta might be looking for Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. With more people losing jobs, more financial troubles, talk of ongoing recession, and a national and community sense of struggle this emotion feels right on the surface. This is no "warm fuzzy" Christmas preparation, but a personal and spiritual struggle that is bound up with the community struggle to find hope, peace, love, and joy.

Do you know the classic "The Christ of the Indian Road" by the Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973). Jones was friends with Gandhi and active in India during their rise to national independence. His work and faith were transformed over the years. His goal was to NOT present an "encrusted Christ" (encumbered by tradition, denominational emphasis, Western emphasis, etc.) but instead share Christ that would bring Life and Good News in a local setting in India. Thus, the Christ of the Indian road.

Of course, Christianity and all its expressions, have tended to get this wrong more often than right! I love the challenge that Jones throws to all religions when he writes "Each system must be judged by its output, its fruit." This is an interesting way to consider various religions. Be careful as you apply to yourself or your church! It is also a helpful corrective as most belief systems stray far from the ideals.

E. Stanley Jones desired to share Christ in India in a way which would allow people to then interpret Christ through their own experience and life, so that their interaction with God would be "first hand and vital." This pushed him to consider the central aspects of the Living Christ in a context where many held a belief system that was fatalistic and paralyzing. Even for the most religious he found they had no way to live up to the system and were only left with the question "What can I do?" in regards to their faith and their life. "What can I do, my Kismet is bad?" "What can I do, my Karma is bad?"

Sounds like life today and so many ways of practical, everyday religious thinking and conversation as we assign much to fate. A new experience of God that brings hope, peace, love, and joy-- NO matter the present situation or circumstance-- would be an excellent Christmas experience.

Stanley writes:

"You cannot break Brokeness. It starts with defeat and accepts that as a way of life. But in that very attitude it finds its victory. It never knows when it is defeated, for it turns every impediment into an instrument, and every difficulty into a door, every cross into a means of redemption. So I concluded that any people that would put the cross at the center of its thought and life would never know when it was defeated. It would have a quenchless hope that Easter morning lies just behind every Calvary."

This might prove a helpful individual and community life skill and attitude in tough times.

Preparing for Christmas,

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