Sunday, January 26, 2014

Following Jesus

What would it be like if we could recapture a sense of the risk and adventure involved in following the way of Jesus?  What would the church be like if it were a community of people committed to helping one another figure out how to take concrete steps to follow Jesus in their daily lives?  What difference would it make in our world?  What would happen to you, to me, to us?

Recently, I’ve been inspired by the work of Mark Scandrette and the Reimagine community here in San Francisco.    Reimagine is a center for integral Christian practice, helping people to bridge the gap between what they say they believe and how they live their lives.   Not unlike Gandhi, who titled his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, Reimagine invites people to experiment with what it means to follow Jesus, and discover what supports them in their spiritual growth.

For example, some of the folks at Reimagine were reflecting on Jesus’ admonition to sell your possessions and give to the poor.  They decided, well, let’s see what happens if we do that.  So they developed Have2Give1, a program in which participants inventoried their possessions and sold off duplicates of stuff they already had with a goal of selling roughly half of their goods.  For some participants, this included selling some big-ticket items like televisions and even a car. 

Some interesting things happened as a result.  For one, participants realized how much stuff they had, and how much they could do without.  Beyond the immediate simplification of their lives, they became conscious of the lure of consumerism and its false promises.  They became far more discerning about what they needed, what they chose to do with their resources, and the effect of those choices on other people.  In other words, they grew in awareness and in the exercise of freedom.  And they managed to make a very concrete difference in the lives of some of the world’s poorest people through their pooled contribution. 

What is more, they did this together.  It wasn’t simply a personal decision, but the fruit of communal discernment and a commitment to support one another in figuring out what it means to follow Jesus in their ordinary lives.   They were accountable to one another, not in a moralistic way, but in the service of personal and social transformation.  They didn’t try to force conformity to a rigid, fixed rule, but rather engaged one another in a process of creative risk taking for the sake of the common good. 

Finally, notice their motivation.  It came from a desire to follow Jesus, to become fully human in the way that he taught and lived.   They actually believed that Jesus is a reliable guide in the process of healing the world, including our selves.  He helps us to recognize and nurture our deepest desire – our desire to align ourselves with the creative, life-giving power of God that we call love.

The good folks at Reimagine are just like you and me.  They are ordinary people who work regular jobs and try to support their families.  They are students, and parents, and retirees – ordinary people like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, casting their nets from the shore of the Sea of Galilee as generations before and after them have done.   This is what Jesus does.  He slips into the ordinary lives of ordinary people and awakens them to their extraordinary desire for God, for God’s kingdom of justice and peace.  And they can never be the same again. 

When we meet Jesus, we look in the mirror and realize our own desire for freedom, forgiveness, wholeness, and love.  We want what he has and not just for ourselves, but for everybody.  We realize that we were created to be transparent to God’s love.  That is what it means to be human, to be created in the image of God. 

This is what makes Jesus such a dangerous instigator, the original outside agitator.  In revealing to us our desire, he also reveals the gap between who we wish to be and how we live our lives.  But he doesn’t just leave us there, wallowing in guilt.  He gently whispers, “Follow me.  Don’t stay stuck.  Get a move on.  There are things to do, places to go, people to see.   I’m gonna make you fish for people – and we are going to caste a very wide net indeed.  There really is a much better way to live.”

Once Jesus gets a hold of us, our ordinary lives reveal extraordinary depths.  It isn’t so much the external circumstances that change (although they may; you never know where following Jesus may lead you).  We may see the same people, follow the same routines, punch the same clock, but our attention to the quality of our relationship to these people, places, and things is transformed.  As our desire becomes aligned with God’s will, as our perception of the nearness of God’s kingdom becomes more acute, our transparency to love becomes greater.  On one level, nothing may have changed; yet, everything is different.  Our perception shifts, and our capacity to love grows.

That is what it means to repent:  to change our mind – to expand our conscious awareness – to shift our perception and discover God’s invitations to love in the most unlikely places.  That is the message, but translating it into mission – into action – takes time and practice.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John may have immediately dropped everything to follow Jesus, but the process of transformation they underwent to become like Jesus took a long time.  Meeting Jesus for the first time was just the beginning of a long series of experiments with truth.

Becoming the kind of person we want to be – becoming like Jesus – requires a lot of practice, a lot of mistakes, a series of risks and discoveries that are not always easy or pleasant.  Net fishing – casting a wide net of loving relationships – is hard work.  We need a discipline and a community of disciples to help us along the way.  

In another of their experiments, a small group at Reimagine covenanted together to observe a peculiar kind of fast for forty days.  They abstained from meat – nothing unusual there.  And they agreed to radically limit their use of the Internet.  OK – maybe a bit more of a stretch, but one can see the value in that.  Then, they threw in a really interesting twist:  they agreed to wear only two sets of clothes for those forty days.  

One participant reported that he was grumpy the whole time.  He discovered that he needs an adequate amount of protein in order to love people well.  Sometimes, we need to relearn the simple things, and come to value anew what we too often take for granted.  There are a whole lot of people in the world without adequate protein.  Being able to identify with that that may feel like for a period of time isn’t such a bad thing.

The big struggle for the group, however, was the limited clothing option.  I suspect it was a little humbling to realize how much of our identity is tied up with our self-presentation to the world.  What will people think of me if they see me wearing the same thing day after day?  It was a powerful exercise in discovering how much our sense of value is tied to a cultural script that may have very little to do with the values of the kingdom of God. 

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing?”  - Matthew 6:25b-28a

The way of Jesus is just as relevant today in San Francisco as it was in first century Palestine.  Just wait until you have a fifteen year-old son trying to decide what to wear to school in the morning, and you will get the point. 

The question guiding all these Jesus experiments is simply this:  Am I free to love?  What supports me in my response to the invitations to love?  What risks am I willing to take for the sake of justice, which is the form that love takes in history?  Again, these are not easy questions, but struggling with them is what gives our life meaning and purpose, demanding our most creative efforts to make our life together an enactment of God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  And it can be a lot of fun.

In another of their creative experiments, Reimagine members had a costume party where they dressed as their shadow self – the part of themselves of which they are ashamed (my favorite was one woman who came as a puppet).  The next week they held another party, this time dressed as the person they wish to become.  They took pictures as icons to remind them of the gap between these images  - a gap inspiring both humility and hope – and to remind them not to take themselves too seriously. 

When Jesus says, “Follow me,” the implication is, “Come out and play.” 

When the church is a community of people helping one another to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, the results are certainly not boring.   Meeting Jesus puts us in touch with the motivation to translate his message into mission – into love in action.  There is vulnerability and risk here.  But there is also a joy and a peace that the world cannot give.  This is what church is for.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Church's Job Description

Sermon Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by the Rev. Sheri Hostetler, Pastor, First Mennonite Church of San Francisco

The popular Biblical scholar Marcus Borg often asks his students at Oregon State University to write a short essay on their impression of Christianity. He’s been doing this for years, and he says that they consistently use five adjectives to describe Christians: generous, non-judgmental, thoughtful, prophetic, passionate. No, sadly, that is not the five adjectives they use. The way his students consistently describe Christians is: literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, bigoted.

One could argue that this is just one person’s experience, but a book that came out several years ago called unchristian: What a new generation rally thinks about Christianity and why it matters, supported Borg’s story with objective research. The three-year study found that an overwhelming percentage of young people aged 16 to 29-years view Christianity with hostility, resentment and disdain. They think that the following words represent present-day Christianity:  antihomosexual 91%; judgmental 87%; hypocritical 85%; out of touch with reality 72%; boring 68%.  What’s more, these deeply negative views were based upon their real experiences with real Christians – it wasn’t just a superficial stereotype with no basis in experience. It would be hard to overestimate, says the study’s author, "how firmly people reject — and feel rejected by — Christians.”

Actually, probably most of us know that that’s true. Some of us think of Christians in those terms, too. Many of the 20 and 30something in my congregation say that it’s hard for them to “admit” to co-workers or friends that they attend a church. If they do mention it, they feel like they must instantly follow that admission with “But I’m not like those other Christians.” I felt a bit of that myself several years ago when I moved to a new city – Alameda – and started to meet some of my new neighbors, people who would form the neighborhood or village for my son, Patrick. For the first time in my life as a pastor, I found myself feeling a bit shy about stating my profession. Would they think I was a homophobic bigot? Would they think I was judgmental, insensitive, boring? And, here’s the kicker, would they not invite Patrick over to play because of me? Because I’m, you know, Christian?

Wow. People used to think of other things when they thought of Christians. The earliest Christians broke down social barriers, following the example of their teacher. They subverted normal social hierarchies of wealth, ethnicity, religion, and gender in favor of a radical equality. They ate with anybody – prostitutes, lepers, the unclean. They took anybody into their homes. These were shocking things to do at the time. And outsiders noticed.  In the 2nd century, the theologian Tertullian summarized the appeal of the Christian community to outsiders looking in: “Our care for the derelict and our active love have become our distinctive sign. . . See, they say, how they love one another and how ready they are to die for each other."

People used to think of other things when they thought of Christians. In the 1960s, thousands of African-American Christians, inspired by their faith, put their lives on the line to end decades of legalized segregation in this country. They were jailed, beaten, spat upon, hosed.  Some outsiders looked in and described them as “just” and “courageous -- and some of these “outsiders” -- Jews, agnostics, Buddhists – even linked arms with them in common cause, and sang their spirituals as they marched together down the streets of the segregated South.   

When the church is being homophobic, bigoted and hypocritical, those outside the church notice. And when the church is being who it is called to be, people notice that, too.

This passage today from Isaiah is more than 2500 years old. It was written in a very different time and place from our own – to people who have experienced horrors that I’m guessing (I’m hoping) few of us here have experienced. Isaiah is writing to a people who had been defeated by the Babylonian army, their temple – the seat of God on earth – had been destroyed, and they had been taken in chains to Babylon, forced into exile. Like I said, a very different time and place and situation. And yet, this passage is a job description for anybody – in any time, in any place -- who would call themselves people of God. It’s as much of a job description for the exiled people of Israel as it is for us Christians today.

This job description for God’s people is twofold: First, the servant of God restores his or her own people. In the case of this passage, this restoration means returning the thousands of Hebrew exiles to their homeland and restoring a destroyed and demoralized nation. (This happened.)

But this task of restoring one’s own people alone, says God, “is too light a thing.” It’s not enough. There’s more to do. There’s a second part to this job description and that is to be “given as a light to the nations, that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Freedom, restoration, liberation – these are not for the chosen tribes of Israel alone. This promise is for all people, every nation. Even, ironically, for the nation that had oppressed the Hebrew people – the Babylonians. Ironically, these Hebrew captives are to be carriers of hope even to their tormentors. They are to carry the light of God’s salvation to all the earth. So says the job description.

When you look at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the civil rights movement – you see a people who were very aware that their job was not to restore African-American people alone. Yes, segregation needed to end. Yes, systemic oppression and institutionalized racism needed to end (and they still need to end). But they were working for the liberation not only of themselves – that was “too light a thing.” They were working for the liberation of the country from the prison of prejudice. Martin Luther King Jr., knew that by calling on America to end the oppression of some people, he was freeing the entire country – freeing it to be to be true to the values it held most dear, restoring its soul. “I have a dream,” he famously said. “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal.’”

I have long been a part of the movement for lgbt justice in our Mennonite church. I applaud you in the Episcopal church, who are so far ahead of us – we look to you to see where we need to be, and thank you for the pathfinding/pathclearing work you’ve done. I’ve noticed over the 20 years I’ve been a part of this that this liberation movement that it has moved from seeing itself as liberating and restoring lgbt people along to their rightful place in church and community – that is too light a thing -- but to see that we are called to liberate the entire church – to free the church to be who it is called to be, to restore its soul.

I was talking several years ago to a man from a Mennonite church in Florida – a church that had hired an openly gay man as a pastor – in the Mennonite church, that’s still considered pushing the envelope, sadly. For this, the church had been kicked out of their conference and, thus, the denomination. This fact had gotten quite a lot of publicity in the Sarasota newspapers. And after they had been kicked out, people started knocking on their doors. He told me about a single mother named Tina who had two developmentally disabled children. When she was looking for a church to call home, she sought out the one who had an openly gay pastor because, as she said, she figured that would be the church that would truly welcome her and her family.

When outsiders look in and see a Christianity they find attractive, rather than repulsive, it’s because they see a Christianity that is being true to its job description. They see Christians eating with prostitutes and lepers and see in that a hope that the walls that divide us are not as great as the love that unites us. They see Christians pulled off of seats at segregated lunch counters, beaten and kicked, and not striking back, and they see in that a hope that violence is not the only answer to injustice. They see Christians flinging open their doors to welcome everybody and see in that a hope that the light of love can illuminate the darkest places of fear and ignorance. When the church is fulfilling its job description, “outsiders” will describe us as welcoming instead of antihomosexual; open-hearted instead of judgmental; authentic instead of hypocritical; aligned with a greater Reality instead of out of touch with it; and certainty never, ever boring.

If we can help the church be true to its job description, then maybe in the years to come, my nine-year-old son, Patrick, will not feel shy about saying “I am a Christian” if that is what he chooses to be. If we can help the church be this church, then perhaps, in the years to come, we won’t need to say “But I’m not like that” when we say we are Christian. Because, in the years or months or weeks to come, outsiders will look at us and see a light to the nations. God of mercy, may that day come soon. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Baptism of Jesus: Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

The story of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew’s Gospel is evocative of many other scriptural passages, including the lessons from Isaiah and Acts that we heard today as well as others.  I want to draw out some of these allusions, which I believe are meant to deepen our understanding and practice of baptism.   The ritual of baptism has become so commonplace, so easily sentimentalized when reduced to “having the baby done,” that we need to enter into the echo chamber of scripture to hear the deeper resonances of meaning that emerge from this holy water.

Let’s begin with water.  Jesus is submerged in the water of the Jordan River.  This is the water through which the Hebrew people entered the Promised Land, moving from slavery to freedom.   This is the water that Elijah touched with his mantle, parting the water so that he and his apprentice, Elisha, could cross the river on dry ground, much as Moses before him parted the waters of the Red Sea so that the Hebrew people could escape from the Egyptian army.   It is the water of the flood upon which the whole of life was precariously balanced in Noah’s ark.  And behind it all is the water at the beginning of creation, over which the Spirit of God blew.  This water marks a place of creativity and transition:  the movement from chaos to cosmos, from slavery to freedom, from exile to homecoming, from apprentice to master, from death to life. 

To enter into this water is to enter into the very stream of life, the process of transformation and growth that is inevitable but not always consciously chosen.  To live is to be changed.   Jesus chooses to enter into the water, he makes a decision to enter fully into the stream of life and be transformed.   Change means death, so that the new can come into being.  Baptism means living a dying life, dying so that we may live.  It is complete surrender to the mystery of being alive.

Then there is the Spirit of God descending like a dove. This Spirit is the wind hovering over the water in the beginning, the breath blown into the mud creature made in God’s image, the dove returning to the ark with signs of dry land.  Here is the energy of creation and recreation, the divine power that brings order out of chaos and holds all things in being.  Baptism means ripping open the heavens, becoming transparent to the flow of divine energy that gives life to the world.  It is absolute vulnerability to the power of God to make all things new.

Notice, also, the voice from heaven and its awesome announcement: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Here the echoes are ambivalent, perhaps even disturbing.  This is the Son of the enthronement psalms, a royal anointing providing divine legitimacy to the exercise of kingship.  Kings (and Queens) are made in this water, but it is an odd kind of royalty.  The son whom you love, the son of promised blessing, is at the same time Isaac, willingly offered as a sacrifice to God. 

I can’t help but note how many cultures throughout history have divinized kings AND sacrificed them in rituals of cosmic and social renewal.  This water confers great dignity, but it also portends great sacrifice.  We are reminded of Isaiah’s prophecy of a suffering servant, also chosen, beloved of God, who will bring justice to the nations by enduring a perversion of justice, even though he does no violence and speaks no lies.  Sacrificial love is the authentic sign of royal dignity and the only legitimate means of establishing God’s righteous kingdom:  not because God desires sacrifice, but because God desires mercy even for those who persevere in the perversion of justice sacrificing innocent victims.  Baptism means claiming a royal prerogative that is exercised through forgiveness.  It is a total commitment to witness to God’s justice through sacrificial love.

Jesus is himself the best interpreter of his baptism.  Recall Jesus words to John and James when they ask to be given places of honor when he comes into his kingdom: “You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?  You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus understood himself to be the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy, the one who comes to establish justice through nonviolent witness to the power of love and forgiveness to heal and make new.   He freely consents in his baptism to enter fully into the stream of life so that justice may be fulfilled.  His death reveals the mockery of violent coercion masquerading as justice, the lie of community bought at the price of making victims of others.  His resurrection reveals God’s solidarity with victims and forgiveness of sinners, drawing both together in a new community of reconciling love. 

Baptism means becoming part of this new community, the church, no longer defined over and against anyone or anything else.  It is a community defined by the Forgiving Victim, Jesus, at the center of its life, and thus marked by its refusal to make victims and its willingness to forgive enemies.  It is a community with a center but no periphery, because everyone is on the inside of God’s work making all things new. 

This is not an easy ideal for the church to embody, precisely because it requires a community of suffering servants.  Even the apostolic witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus were slow to work out the implications of his baptism – and theirs.  We see the light bulb going off for Peter in The Acts of the Apostles when he encounters a Roman soldier named Cornelius, who turns out to be a devout man who gave generously and prayed constantly to God.  “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” 

Even the enemy – the Gentile officer of the occupying army – proves to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The early followers of Jesus – all Jews – are astonished to see that the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles.  Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 

Notice the order here: Cornelius and his household receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then they are baptized.  Baptism doesn’t make them holy, but rather recognizes and celebrates a holiness already there, and so draws them into the center of the community of suffering servants for whom there is no “them” that defines “us.”  There is just God’s “we.” 

Peter knew that Jesus was killed because, anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by evil, for God was with him.  Human beings put him to death because he witnessed to a justice that threatened their hold on power.  But God raised him up.  Jesus became the Suffering Servant so reveal the perversions of justice that prop up the kingdoms of this world for what they are and invite us instead to seek the kingdom of God.

The suffering servants of this world are those who share the baptism of Jesus, even if, like Cornelius, they have yet to experience the ritual bath.  The Holy Spirit moves wherever and through whomever She chooses.  And She usually shows up in the places and among the people who make us most uncomfortable.

Baptism is a commitment to be suffering servants, committed to witnessing to God’s reconciling love whatever the cost.  It is a lot to ask.  Humanly speaking, it is impossible.  But if we are willing, the Holy Spirit can work through us to work that which only God can accomplish.  Suffering servanthood is the way of Jesus, the means by which God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, bring justice to all the nations.  Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Matthew's Christmas Story: The Empire Strikes Back

Peter Paul Rubens' The Massacre of the Innocents

The story of the wise men from the East who pay homage to the Christ child undermines our attempts to sentimentalize the Christmas story.   Luke’s Gospel tells of angels announcing to shepherds the birth of a Savior bringing peace on earth.  The shepherds rush to see the newborn, who will fulfill this hope.  The familiar tableau of Madonna and child in the manger is serene and joyful, a pastoral image seemingly far removed from the centers of political power where decisions about war and peace are made.  We tend to prefer Luke’s account, because it is easier to domesticate.    

If Luke provides the family friendly version of the Christmas story, Matthew’s account is intended for mature audiences only.   Here, the birth of the Messiah occasions conflict and intrigue at the highest levels.  It is a matter of state, a threat to national security.  What is implicit in Luke is explicit in Matthew:  not everyone perceives the birth of Jesus as a tiding of good news.  

Matthew’s Gospel tells the Christmas story as a contrast between two kings:  Herod, the king chosen by Rome, and Jesus, the king chosen by God.   When the wise men bring Herod news of the birth of this new king, he is frightened – and all Jerusalem with him.  The Jerusalem elites are comfortable being the local proxies for their Roman overlords, complicit in a regime of structural violence that dispossessed and impoverished the rural peasantry – people like the shepherds in Luke’s Gospel.   

News of the birth of a new king who would save his people – presumably from tyrants like Herod – was not good news to the Jerusalem court.  For them, it meant a loss of power and prestige, an existential threat to their identity.  They would no longer be in control.  They would become accountable for their actions to a power even greater than that of the Roman Emperor: the power of Emmanuel, God with us.  So the empire did what all empires do when threatened by regime change: the empire struck back.

Herod convened his national security council to devise an appropriate response.  They advise a surgical strike to minimize collateral damage. Herod tries to co-opt the wise men, instructing them to report back on the exact location of the newborn.    This is all done in secret, a covert operation.  What the people don’t know won’t hurt them.

The wise men, however, have already decided to give their allegiance to this new king.  Heavenly constellations were signs of the rising and falling of kings, and they remain faithful to the star they follow all the way to Bethlehem.   Ironically, it is these Gentile foreigners, who recognize the legitimacy of this Jewish king and bring him tribute.  The gifts they offer are no mere birthday presents.  They are a pledge of allegiance, a sign of their fealty, not to the Roman Emperor, but to the Prince of Peace.
Where Herod responds with fear, the wise men respond with joy.  For Herod, submission to the authority of God’s Messiah can only be a threat, a loss of identity and status.  For the wise men, submission to the authority of God’s messiah is a means of attaining to a higher unity than that provided by Roman imperialism.  They return to their own country, but they are not the same.  They are citizens of God’s kingdom.

Herod is furious that his plans have been foiled.  If a surgical strike will not do the job, then he will strike with shock and awe.  All the children of Bethlehem under the age of two are put to the sword.  Joseph and Mary flee with their toddler to Egypt, tipped off by a dream just in the nick of time.  There, they live as refugees until Herod’s death, and then return to Nazareth in the north, out of the reach of Herod’s heir in Judea.

Luke’s birth narrative concludes with Jesus’ "bar mitzvah" in the Temple, astounding the priests with his knowledge.  Matthew’s birth narrative concludes with the boy Jesus returning from exile, but giving a wide berth to Jerusalem.   Matthew’s account makes clear the indiscriminant and illegitimate violence through which imperial power is exercised.  His version directly challenges us to consider our own response to the birth of Jesus, and our willingness to pledge our allegiance to his kingdom of justice and peace. 

When our lives are driven by fear, we retreat into narrow loyalties and the willful destruction of anything that threatens our identity and security.  Even the gift of God’s love and forgiveness can feel like a threat when our ultimate trust is in the coercive power of the state.

The joyful reception of the birth of God-with-us, the power of love and forgiveness to heal and make new, transcends narrow loyalties and partial identities in recognition of the universality of God’s gracious rule.  We can no longer give our allegiance to anything less than God’s kingdom.  Like the wise men, we return to our own country, but we are citizens of the world. 

Matthew’s Gospel is unrelenting in its portrayal of the normalcy of violence:  the making victims of innocent children and the putting to flight of refugees for the sake of national security; the secrecy and surveillance through which illegitimate power seeks to cloak and protect itself.  Empire resists the coming of the light.  It prefers to operate in the darkness. 

But now that the light has come, to whom will we offer our tribute, in whose service will we put our gifts to work?  Are we frightened by the coming of Jesus or overwhelmed with joy?  I guess it depends, in part, on whether or not we trust the power of love more than the power of violence to save our world.