Merry Christmas my dear friends! 

What a joy it was to sing these words Sunday in worship,

“O come thou DaySpring come and cheer, our spirits by your advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.” 

I for one needed to sing in order to have hope the darkness will not prevail; either in my heart or in our world.

Ya know, in a very real sense our Christian identity is birthed in the same way as Jesus was- through the Holy Spirit. John (3:3,6) and Paul (Rom 8:7-16) reflect on the Spirit’s necessary presence in forming faith- “you must be born of the Spirit!”

Which of course Mark and Luke suggest was central to the Christmas story about Jesus. We too are children of the Spirit.

But what does that actually mean? 

God's Christmas promise has both personal and public implications, all of which are best understood in shalom-peace, God's movement to restore all creation.

God’s Christmas promise has both personal and public implications, all of which are best understood in shalom-peace, God’s movement to restore all creation.

Buried beneath the tinsel and chocolate of our cultural Christmas, it’s always difficult to see Biblical truths for what they are. In absolutely no way does “spiritual” reference a disembodied, invisible, ethereal, otherworldly or non-physical essence; as if ‘the spiritual’ were somehow more important than the material world of bodies, blood, and budgets. No it’s much better news than Plato could ever offer! To be ‘spiritual’ means we’re infused with the values and passions of God’s Spirit. We’ve been shaped by Spirit ethically and volitionally to reflect divinity.

Take Isaiah 9 as a great example. The Promise of Christmas bursts into both the personal and public realm through Isaiah’s imaginative symbolism. The light shines in the darkness, putting death’s dark shadow to flight! A truly miraculous message for those struggling with mental health, the crushing weight of depression, or for the 22 military families a day who loose loved ones to suicide. This good news flows into the deepest recesses of our soul, cleansing shame and buried memories that hijack our best intentions.

As amazing as this message is for me this Christmas, the caring of God’s Spirit is much more limitless. Isaiah also celebrates the Spirit’s work in ending oppression (9:4) and warfare (9:5) as we know it; oppression is broken and violence sees its’ end through the powerful symbol of burning military garments.

This powerful symbolic speech challenges the mistaken belief in violence’s power to transform, and helps us imagine the pathway of nonviolence as a viable option.

Indeed, not only is it merely viable, nonviolence has a stunning record of effectiveness far beyond that of violence and warfare.

Scilla Elworthy’s powerful TEDx talk asks us, “How do we deal with extreme violence without using force in return? When you’re faced with brutality, whether it’s a child facing a bully on a playground or domestic violence — or, on the streets of Syria today, facing tanks and shrapnel, what’s the most effective thing to do? Fight back? Give in? Use more force?”

As we remember the angels’ songs for “peace on earth” heralding the birth of the “prince of peace” no one should be surprised at the efficacy of nonviolence and the power of peace.

Arming Ho Chi Minh to resist the Japanese in the 40’s didn’t work, nor did our support of Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians or Saddam Hussein to fight Iran. Why do we persist to believe the lie that warfare can bring peace?

Militarizing Ferguson hasn’t work. Torturing suspects after 9/11 didn’t (as it never has! Read this stunning article about how the US ignored ALL it knew about responding to security threats!) work. Ratcheting up violence to meet violence only forces the other side to ratchet even further.

Art Gish, non-violent resister to imperial war.

Art Gish, non-violent resister to imperial war.

MLK understood this, and resisted ratcheting up Bull Conner’s brutality when strong voices suggested it was the only way. Aun San Suu Kyi knew this as well in Burma, as did Ghandi who overthrew 200 years of imperial exploitation without firing a shot in India. And Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for his violent resistance but returned to transform a country through radical commitment to nonviolence rather than returning evil for evil. The twentieth century and early twenty-first century has seen hundreds of working examples of the power grassroots movements have in bringing change to oppressive and violent situations.

Elworthy asks of about the effectiveness of nonviolence, “Have you asked yourselves why and how so many dictatorships have collapsed over the last 30 years? Dictatorships in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Mali, Madagascar, Poland, the Philippines, Serbia, Slovenia, I could go on, and now Tunisia and Egypt. And this hasn’t just happened.”

She points directly to the work of nonviolent expert Gene Sharp, whose books outline over 200 strategies and tactics of nonviolent resistance to brutality that actually have worked in the 20th century.

Let’s celebrate more of that this Christmas!! The promise of Christmas captures the fullness of Gods peace, brought through justice by the baby who grows into our king.  The promise of Christmas flows not only into the deep recesses of our minds, but into the hidden patterns of racism, colonial resource grabs, and extreme power imbalances that fuel violence in places like Ferguson, Syria, and the Halls of our own government.

May God’s Spirit disperse ALL the gloomy clouds of night on this beautiful day- both far and nigh, personal and public! This is, after all, the breadth and beauty of Gods peace. In the Spirit we can (and must) courageously resist the temptation of color-blindness and embrace the path of color-bravery. Likewise, through the Spirit we can connect the wealth gap with global imperialism and the lies of militarism.

And, as children of the Spirit may we enter ever more deeply into the fabulous world of the physical here and now; where a table filled with bread, wine, and good friends is all that’s needed to believe in the Christmas promise- we like Jesus are born of Spirit. We can indeed be the peace we long for our world to know.

Isn’t it great to be human? 

Merry Christmas friends! Have a fantastic new year.

Watch Scilla’s TEDx below.

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