In the couple of weeks before Christmas, a number of events worth noting have occurred:
- After an exchange of prisoners, facilitated by Pope Francis, President Obama decided to recognize the government of Cuba, changing a policy of non-recognition that dates back to the Cuban revolution. This move predictably angered conservatives, but recognizes that non-recognition has failed to advance US interests and to undermine the Castro regime.
- In the aftermath of hackers accessing Sony's corporate files and emails, which led to an unsubstantiated threat of violence against persons who dared to attend the soon to be released film, "Interview," many major theater chains have declined to show the film. Their refusal to show the film represents an unabashed act of cowardice, caving to a threat that is tantamount to censorship. An essential antidote to terror threats is courageous resilience on the part of those threatened, demonstrated by bravely persevering with one's life. Conversely, by acquiescing to the threat, the theater chains cede victory to the terrorists and invite similar threats in the future.
- The Episcopal Church has released a report on its proposed restructuring and the Church of England has nominated its first woman bishop (she will be consecrated January 26, 2015).
Now, you may be wondering, what do these events have to do with the gospel narratives of Jesus' birth?
First, the gospel narrative moves the story of God's loving acts on earth forward, adding a new chapter that emphasizes God's presence in humanity. A modern analogue of that emphasis is evident in two nation states, separated by only 90 miles of ocean, once again taking steps to cultivate a positive, healthy relationship.
Second, the gospel narrative is a story of an uncertain, hazardous existence in which the protagonists persevere. For example, Herod not only threatened to kill the baby Jesus but also actually attempted to do so, prompting Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to flee to Egypt.
Third, whatever the actual events of Jesus' birth, it almost certainly went unnoticed. The Episcopal Church needs to simplify its governance, investing more time and energy in mission and less in internal matters. The Church of England should have consecrated its first woman bishop decades (centuries?) ago. Yet few people, other than Anglicans, will care about either change. God's actions in our midst rarely if ever attract the global media spotlight.
This Christmas, when I see stars in the sky or as part of holiday decorations, I remember with thankfulness that God is at work in our uncertain, unsafe world, in ways that most often go unnoticed and pray that I, like the shepherds, may see and rejoice.