“Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of God has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention God, I will no longer speak in God’s name. But then it becomes like a fire burning in my heart.”Jeremiah 20: 8
Jeremiah the prophet was called by God to proclaim judgment upon the nation of Judah. Jeremiah was speaking truth to power, and power did not like it, and sought to silence him.
John the Baptist prophesized that there was someone coming, one sent by God, who would baptize people in the Holy Spirit and in fire; who would separate the wheat from the chaff and burn the chaff in unquenchable fire. For John fire refers to divine judgment. Jesus says he cannot wait until a fire is burning. When we look upon the baby in the manger, remember who this baby grows up to be.
What is this fire that Jesus wants to fling upon the earth? This is the Jesus who marched into the temple and overturned tables and drove people out because they had turned the Temple into a den of thieves. Jesus was filled with a fiery Spirit and his message was “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
We prefer to think of Jesus as gentle, accepting, forgiving, and he is – toward all those who have been excluded and victimized; toward those who are searching for a better life.; toward those who are open to hearing his words. But toward those who do evil, he is filled with a righteous anger. The fire Jesus brings is like the fire farmers use to burn off their fields, like the fire used to form glass, or like the fire that purifies metal. It is the fire of change.
As the Kingdom of God comes to earth as it is in heaven, there is no room for evil. Oppression must go, violence must go, greed must go, racism must go, sexism must go, exploitation must go – all evil must go. The wheat must be separated from the chaff, and the chaff burned away. Peace cannot come if we declare a cease-fire with evil. The world will not change just because of our thoughts and prayers, or just because we want it to change. If we fail to confront evil, it will continue.
The peace that Jesus offers the world is not a fake peace, held in place by denial, turning a blind eye, or keeping silent. Jesus offers us a peace worth suffering for, a true peace. But most of us hate conflict. We want people to like us, and we do not want to make waves. We are even likely to pretend unity out of a fear of creating divisions. We become the masters of avoidance. We become safe and soft.
Our culture has accepted Christianity and in return Christianity has allowed itself to become safe and non-threatening. Even within Christianity evil is not confronted. Anyone can claim to be a Christian and still exploit the poor, oppress other races, abuse the weak, and not be confronted. This is not true of all Christians, but is true of too many.
The Gospels, when heard, start fires, and if the Holy Spirit takes hold of us, we discover a true freedom in God. We become free when our trust in God, our faith, means we cannot be intimidated or bought off. When we know that all will be well in the end, no matter what evil tries to do to us. We will not deny what is true, turn away so we don’t see, and we will not be silenced.
Christ calls us into a new life and this life includes justice. The world system will not be overturned without conflict, so we need to make a commitment to justice, to love, and to peace. We can persevere in our faith, speaking truth to power, because we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. We are never alone. And we also have each other, and when you are in the right faith community, a safe place to come to be encouraged and equipped, you are able to go out the doors and make a difference. Find the kind of faith community where you have a safe place in Christ to enjoy peace and unity, and are encouraged to take that peace into the world. Yes, we are lambs in a world of wolves, but we are God’s lambs, and we face conflicts with God’s love.
My beloved ones, the Nativity Scenes we admire hold the promise of a better world. Let the promise be born in you this Christmas.