Above: Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds
Image in the Public Domain
Long ago the angels vanished–
But their song is sounding still!
Millions now with hope are singing,
“Peace on earth, to men good will.”
Sing, my heart! Tho’ peace may tarry,
Sing good will mid human strife!
Till that old sweet song of angels
Shall attune to heav’n our life.
–William Allen Knight (1863-1957), “Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It” (1915), quoted in The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935), Hymn #77
Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is its counterintuitive nature: a vulnerable baby was God incarnate. This truth demonstrates the reality that God operates differently than we frequently define as feasible and effective. Then again, Jesus was, by dominant human expectations, a failure. I would never claim that Jesus was a failure, of course.
If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
and the LORD will reward you.
–Proverbs 25:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)
Speaking of counterintuitive ways of God, shall we ponder the advice of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 12:14-21?
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
—The New Revised Standard Version (1989)
That old sweet song of angels will not attune to heaven our life if we ignore this sage advice–if we fail to overcome evil with good. How we treat others indicates more about what kind of people we are than about what kind of people they are. If we react against intolerance with intolerance, we are intolerant. We also add fuel to the proverbial fire. Is not a fire extinguisher better?
As the Master said,
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
–Matthew 5:43-48, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)
Perfection, in this case, indicates suitability for one’s purpose, which is, in the language of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,
to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
–Quoted in The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, The Book of Confessions (1967)
As the annual celebration of the birth of Christ approaches again, may we who follow him with our words also follow him with our deeds: may we strive for shalom on a day-to-day basis. Only God can save the world, but we can leave it better than we found it.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
DECEMBER 21, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT
THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR