“In order…to be a person in Harlem, in order that my life and work there should have integrity, I had to be and to remain whoever I had become as a person before coming there. To be accepted by others, I must first of all know myself and accept myself and be myself wherever I happen to be. In that way, others are also freed to be themselves” (Stringfellow, “A Keeper of the Word,” 38.)
A few days ago, a person reflected to me that today’s society is spiraling downhill; all great nations and civilizations have fallen because of the loss of morality. On the most basic level, I disagree. (If Napoleon had not foolishly invaded Russia, we would have had a Beethoven symphony dedicated to him.) But focusing more on the first part of that statement, isn’t that just a nostalgic way of viewing the past? Ultimately, have the needs of “today’s society” changed that much in the past 2,000 years?
We could take hours to list all of the advances of the past 10, 50, 200, or even 500 years that define today. (My mother would argue that at the top of the list should be Gutenberg’s printing press.) But despite our radically different possessions, our ‘enlightened’ way of thinking, and even being much taller than our ancestors, the phrase “people, are people, are people” still comes to mind.
During the Advent season, our vocabulary is filled with wonderful words like “peace” and “love” and “justice.” These words that are central to the prophets’ messages about the coming of Christ translate into today’s world just as much as they did 2,000 years ago.
People, are people, are people who are in need of peace, in need of love, and in need of justice. Huge concepts that are constantly addressed during Jesus’ ministry. This season of preparation is not about buying gifts, decorating trees, or creepy Santa light up statues. It’s the time for us to realize that what is holding us back from peace, love, and justice to be present in this world is so often ourselves. People for centuries have defined the “right” way to dress, the “right” sexual orientation, the “right” skin colour, the “right” way to worship God. People have striven to bring about peace through violence, love through domination, and justice through tyranny. But we have the wonderful opportunity of living in the 21st century to realize that people regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation are all fearfully and wonderfully created and are all in need of Christ-like peace, love, and justice.
In this season of preparation, Christ is calling us to be comfortable in our own skins. To love your neighbor, you must first love yourself. Kudos, Stringfellow, for realizing this as part of your daily life. Peace, love, and justice will hopefully be realized for all people of this world.
But if you believe our society is in rapid decline and lacking in hope this Christmas season, may the words of Isaiah provide you hope that out of nothing, through Christ, God can grow much.
Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSV)
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;  but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious