Hope in the Age of Darkness: Gifts of the Incarnation
For a person named “God-Is-Gracious,” John comes across as someone we would not normally think of as “gracious” … at least not by our common definition of grace. We think of grace as making things easier, but John doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction. He is calling people to repent of their sins and offering baptism as a sign of divine cleansing.
Then when the religious people show up, he challenges them by calling them a “brood of vipers.” For us religious types, that doesn’t really feel very gracious.
Then he talks about this one who is coming who will be sifting us out like the freshly-reaped wheat (with stalks and leaves mixed amidst the grain). The wheat is placed on an outdoor hard surface surrounded by boards or something solid framing it no more than a 2-3 inches taller than the hard floor (these form what is called the threshold). Then when a breeze is blowing, the farmer takes the winnowing fork and begins to throw the chaff (along with some grain) into the air. The grain falls to the floor, and the chaff blows beyond the threshold.
John tells us that this will be what happens when this promised one comes into the world. It is what I came to know in my childhood as being “sorted out,” and that rarely meant anything good for me. This doesn’t sound like grace to me.
Fortunately, as I wrote previously, I have come to rely on my Methodist upbringing and the lessons I learned about grace throughout my life. While grace always offers us a pathway to the heart of God through Christ, that doesn’t mean it is an easy path. It is a path that leads us to confront some tough realities in our own world, and upon confronting those realities, see where God is leading us. This is what is known as “sanctifying grace,” and it is all about how God transforms our hearts even when it doesn’t feel like warm hugs to us.
And where does this become real for us today? As we have journeyed through this pandemic, we have seen exposed the continued effects of systemic racism. We have been confronted with the reality that we have, all too often, been complicit by individual and corporate denial and excuses (no matter the color of our skin). We have been quick to denounce racial violence and proclaim (especially among the white skinned of our sisters and brothers) that we are not racist. Yet, in this time, I have again had to come to terms with how I have benefited from racism as one who has inherited a great deal of privilege throughout my life.
This isn’t about self-flagellation. This is about an awakening awareness that we have so often been afraid to see. It is about seeing Jesus’s relationship with what Howard Thurman calls the “disinherited,” in his powerful work, Jesus and the Disinherited, written in 1949.
It is finally about creating the space for the marginalized and disinherited to speak
I have gone down to that river where John is baptizing to proclaim that I stand against racism … when, truthfully, I have not been honest about how systemic racism has benefited me. And I hear the voice: “Brood of vipers! Flee from the wrath to come! Bear fruit worthy of repentance!” Is that me John is talking about?
This grace, you see, is about honesty. It is about seeing the truth of the divisiveness in our world. It is about speaking truth even when it hurts. It is about understanding that standing in solidarity with the disenfranchised of our world does not mean defending ourselves, justifying ourselves, or even beating ourselves up. It is certainly not to speak for the marginalized … it is finally about creating the space for the marginalized and disinherited to speak. It is about listening and developing a new relationship without needing to keep myself in the place of privilege or power.
“God-Is-Gracious” is all about proclaiming a gospel that turns our world on its head. This is the place where the last are first, the least are the greatest, and the weakest are the strongest. This is the place where the wheel of grace meets the road of human living.
In this season of advent, you are invited to step into the sometimes uncomfortable waters of grace with me. This is where the Word is made flesh, and uncomfortable as it is, it is the place where we meet Christ!
Transforming God of Grace: Speak to us of the transformative power of your Spirit as we seek to enflesh the message of hope and grace that comes in the form of our Christ. Amen.