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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Transfiguration Sunday

The readings for Sunday, February 26, 2017:

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18

Psalm: Psalm 2

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 99

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9


Here we are at Transfiguration Sunday again. We celebrate this festival on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, although the earlier festival day was August 6.

It's such a familiar story that we may feel that we can get nothing new from it.  But it's a story that bears repeating. 

When I read the Gospel again, I'm not surprised by Peter's offer to build booths and celebrate the Transfiguration in a commercial way.  Christ's command to tell no one makes me pause.  Why can't we share this amazing moment?

Christ says this often. Go and tell no one--that seems to be a constant command. And it seems antithetical to the task of the Church.

In just a few months, we'll get a very different  Pentecost message. Aren't we supposed to go and witness? Spread the good news? If Jesus is our role model, what do we make of his command to stay silent?

In some ways, perhaps Jesus knew the times he lived in. He knew that early fame would undo his purpose. He knew that people would focus on the physical plane--"This man can heal my blindness"--but not the spiritual plane, the one where we need healing the most.

He also knew that people who see visions, who catch a glimpse of something otherworldly, are often shunned by the community. What would have happened if James and John and Peter came down from the mountain and proclaimed what they had seen? How would the community have responded?

Jesus knew that he couldn't appear too threatening to the status quo too early. In the verses that follow, the ones not included in this Gospel, Jesus makes clear that persecution follows those who see visions. And that persecution still persists today. Our culture tolerates those of us who pray. It's less tolerant of those of us who claim that God replies to our prayers.

The life of the believer is tough, and one measure of its difficulty is knowing when to speak, and knowing when to hold our tongues. Sometimes we should keep our counsel. Sometimes we should testify verbally. Always we should let our lives be our testimony.

Christ also might have been wary of the human tendency to rush towards transfiguration.  We yearn to be different, but so often, we shun the hard work involved.  We might embrace transformation before we stop to consider the cost.

Like Peter, we might want to turn Christ into Carnival: build booths, charge admission, harness holiness. Jesus reminds us again and again that the true work comes not from telling people what we’ve seen, but by letting what we’ve seen change the way that we live. Our true calling is not to be carnival barker, but to get on with the work of repair and building of the communities in which we find ourselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sandra Carter Funeral Service

The funeral for Sandra Carter will take place as follows:
Visitation: Thursday February 23rd 4:30PM - 6PM in the sanctuary
Funeral Service Thursday Feb 23rd 6PM in the sanctuary.
Memorial meal to follow in the hall.
Singers invited to be of an adhoc choir to lead the hymns

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Who Are the Meek?

By Kristin Berkey-Abbott

When I first read the Beatitude text that talked about the meek inheriting the earth, my thoughts went immediately to the traditional definition of meek:  the ones that keep their eyes down, the ones that don't toot their own horns, the ones that will let themselves get bulldozed by the strong--the ones that will suffer brutality and take it.

But later in this same chapter of Matthew, we'll get to the part about turning the other cheek.  Here, too, I was taught that I was reading a text advocating non-violence.  But a more careful reading and analysis suggests something else.

These are resistance texts. Yes, resistance texts.

These are texts that show us how to resist evil in such a way that evil elements will not turn around and destroy us. Likewise, these are texts that show us how to resist evil in such a way that we don’t become the evil that we are resisting.

It’s important to remember that the culture of Jesus was a vastly different culture. It was a culture based on honor. It was a culture based on social hierarchy. It was also a culture ruled by Romans who were not going to tolerate social unrest, Romans who would not hesitate to slaughter dissenters.

So, if an member of the occupying empire army orders us to give up our coat, we can strip naked, giving up coat and shirt--which is an assault on honor, an assault that mortifies the soldier whose orders led to public indecency as much as the one who strips.  It's also a way of showing that we won't be controlled.  But we haven't done anything wrong--in fact, we've followed instructions and gone above and beyond.  What's the poor soldier to do?

Jesus shows us how to live in this world, how to resist evil without being destroyed by evil.  Some of us are in a position where we can do more to resist evil and oppression--and Jesus will call on us to do it.  But some of us cannot.  Jesus shows us how to live in the world, especially if we live on the margins of society.

What if the meek inherit the earth because they survive?

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Welcome to the New World Order, God's Order

The reading for Sunday, February 12, 2017:


Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."


Here again, we see an inversion, a way that Christ tells us that the world of the kingdom of God is very different than the world of the empire that surrounded early listeners.  In Simply Jesus:  A New Vision of Who He Was, Why He Did, and Why He Matters, N. T. Wright explains the Beatitudes this way:   "The Beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom people.  They are not simply about how to behave so that God will do something nice to you.  They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world.  He wants to do it through this sort of people--people, actually, just like himself (read the Beatitudes again and see.  . . . When God wants to change the world, he doesn't send in the tanks.  He sends in the meek, the mourners, those who are hungry and thirsty for God's justice, the peacemakers, and so on" (page 218, italics in original).


These types of people are not the ones endorsed by most of the world. Spend a night watching television and contemplate what it says about our culture. We don't see many messages that remind us to be meek, to hunger for justice, to work for peace, to be pure in heart. No, we're supposed to dance with stars, or sing for a panel of harsh judges, or watch dramas about ghastly criminals.


Watch those in power and contemplate how rarely we see the meek speaking from a position of authority, as if they inherited the earth.  No, it's the other types of people who gobble up all the air in the room.  They're the ones who seem to have it all:  money, fame, access to anyone they want in any way they want.


Those of us who have studied history may feel bleak, as if it's always been that way.  But God's way is not the world's way.  And sometimes, we see an interesting glimpse of what God might mean.


I want to remember times when it seemed like no progress could ever be made, and then, voila, history changed in what seemed like a flash:  the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for example, or Nelson Mandela being set free. 


Those who are younger than I am might not realize how huge that event was for me and many other activists.  Apartheid seemed like a government system that had existed forever, an entrenched evil that had a deathgrip on the country--likewise, the Soviet Union.

And then, it vanished, and a much more humane system evolved.  It's still far from perfect, but it's better than the old system.


Much of the reason why these systems crumbled was because of the meek, not the powerful.  Part of what set the stage for the crumbling of these systems is that people acted as if they were already free.  I'm thinking of Vaclav Havel and his group of writers and artists, who refused to stop creating, just because the State told them they must.  I think of Nelson Mandela, who spent his decades in prison not plotting revenge but dreaming about the best ways to govern. When he was released and elected president, he was ready with plans for creating a better South Africa.

My historical analysis is much too brief, but it's what comes to mind when I read about the meek inheriting the earth.


That’s the way redemption works—not in the ways we would expect, but in surprising ways that take us where we could not dream of going, and sometimes faster than we would expect. If we could travel back in time to tell the people of 1985 that the Soviet Union would soon crumble and South Africa would be free of white rule, the people of 1985 would think we were insane. If we could travel back to the first century of the Roman empire to tell of what the followers of Jesus would accomplish, those people would laugh at us—if they even knew who Jesus was.


We can choose to live as people of God, no matter what our human empires would have us believe. We do not have to weep in the ruins of our cities. Jesus has promised us that the new world order will look nothing like the world order that has held us captive for too long.


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Strategies for Those Who Mourn

Last week at church, we talked about mourning with a focus on refugees.  No matter where we stand on the political spectrum, we can agree that our world situation, with so many people fleeing from all sorts of terror, gives us plenty of opportunity to mourn.

Jesus promises us that we will be comforted.  For those of us sitting on the sofa, waiting for comfort to come--may I suggest that we take a more active approach?

Now is a good time in the life of our nation to become more involved politically--it's always a good time.  We could call or e-mail our senators and representatives to let them know how we'd like them to vote and what kind of nation we want to see.  The process should work this way.  It's a representative democracy, after all.

But we might sink into more despair if this action is the only one that we take.  We may have legislators who will do whatever they want, regardless of their constituents.  We may feel that we call and call and call, and nothing happens.

Maybe we need something more immediate.  I thought of this when my college roommate saved the Campbell's soup labels on cans that I was going to recycle.  She told me that I could take them to my public library, and they could get free books that way.  I had never thought of that.

I don't use canned soup often, but I do occasionally use them when I need chicken or beef stock.  What a great idea to save the labels.

We could do the same with box tops, which come on many products and local schools can trade for stuff.  I mail mine to my sister, who collects them for my nephew's elementary school.  But at the time that she no longer collects them, I could still donate them to a local school.  Look around the chancel and see who has small children and ask them if they want your box tops.

What are some other actions that we can do that will take a small amount of time but bring some good into the world?  Let me list some:

--For those of us who want to get more involved in refugee issues, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service offers ideas, like letter writing to those detained or a visitation program or a way to donate money.  Go here for more details:  www.lirs.org.

 --When we go grocery shopping, we could pick up some items for the food pantry. 

 --When we go to a big box store, like Target or Wal-Mart, we could buy a package of socks for the homeless.

--Don't forget about the power of money.  We can write a check to national or local groups that are working for the changes we want to see in the world.  Even small checks are better than no checks.  Lutheran World Relief does an amazing amount of good work with not much money.

--Does your employer match your charitable giving?

--Don't forget about our own church which does an amazing amount of community work on a very small budget.

 --Bring some treats to the local office of your favorite non-profit or charity.  Raise the spirits of the people who are usually working long hours for low pay.

--Read to children.  At first this action might not seem simple as many groups now require a background check.  But once you're done with that, you might find joy in sharing stories with children.

--Buy children's books and give them to elementary schools and libraries.  Support programs that support summer reading.

--Don't forget about the importance of self-care and care of those around you.  You cannot keep giving and giving and not replenish yourself.  What would make you happy?  Do those things.

As we begin these activities, we may continue to feel bogged down in despair; we may wonder when comfort will come.  But through the months, as we knit ourselves more securely into our communities by our actions, we are much more likely to find the comfort that Jesus promises.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Second Beatitude

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The Gospel reading for Sunday, January 29, 2017:

Matthew 5:4

The text for this week is deceptively simple:  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

We might assume that Jesus is talking about Heaven, a time when we will be reunited with our loved ones and find the ultimate comfort.  Or maybe we say that we're all comforted eventually, because time passes and we get used to our losses.

We forget, or never knew, how Christ's listeners would hear this text.  They did not have the benefit of modern psychology that instructs us in the best ways to mourn and how to emerge on the other side a healthier person.  Christ's listeners would have a very different idea of what happens when we die:  perhaps there would be a reunion with loved ones, but it would be in a very distant time after we've all laid in the cold earth a very long time.

The idea of a mourner being called out for blessing would be very odd indeed.  Mourners are those who have lost much--how can they be blessed? It's those who don't mourn who are blessed--right?

Those of us who have mourned deeply may also be baffled.  How can we be blessed when hollowed out with grief.  We may look at our pre-mourning time and feel like we've been exiled to a distant land.  We may look with envy on those who have never experienced mourning.  We may tell ourselves that those who mourn are cursed, not blessed.

This message is central to the teaching of Jesus.  Everything we thought we knew will be overturned. Christ has come to overturn the natural order of our societies, an order which doesn't work very well for many of us.

Most of us will not escape mourning--but the central message of Christianity is that death does not have the final answer.  We will not be exiled in the land of grief forever.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Broken Spirits

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

This Sunday, we continue our study of last week's Gospel reading:

Matthew 5:  1-3

One of the things I learned last Sunday was how to more correctly interpret the idea of being poor in spirit.  The word "poor"--the exact word in Greek--doesn't mean poor the way that modern readers might assume.  In fact, last week I made this very mistake:  poor as lacking something, like money.

Last week, Pastor Keith told us that this particular word, "poor," evoked a bent-over poor.  We have seen this kind of poor in our own cities:  the homeless person begging at the intersection, so disabled from this life that standing up straight is not an option.

What does it mean to be that kind of emptied out spiritually?  The verse, after all, is "Blessed are the poor in spirit."  Some weeks, I know exactly what that kind of spirit must be.

I'm not talking about spirituality, the way that many might when reading that verse.  I'm thinking about my general human spirit, that spark that makes a person unique.

Some weeks, I feel like a dimly burning candle on a windy night.  The wind buffets my tiny flame, and it's in constant danger of going out for good.  What use am I to anyone?

This passage reminds us that there's room for us too, even when we're bent over with our broken spirits.  We don't have to be spiritual superstars.  Jesus includes us, even when we're spiritually impoverished.

And when we're hollowed out this way, maybe we'll have more room for Jesus.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Sermon on the Mount: Poor in Spirit

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The Gospel reading for Sunday, January 15, 2017:

Matthew 5:  1-3

This Sunday we begin our study of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.  Some have said that if you were choosing the most important passages of the Gospels, we'd do well to choose this text.  Some have called it a guidebook to the proper behavior of Christians.  Is this text an updating of the Ten Commandments or the replacing?  Or something else altogether?

As we read the Beatitudes in the coming weeks, ask yourself if Jesus speaks to you in this passage.  Which beatitude seems tailor-made for you?  Where might you be called to improve?

We should also try to listen to these passages with new ears.  If we've been going to church any length of time, we've heard these texts before, often many times.  How might we have come away with the wrong idea? 

Let's take Matthew 5:  3, where Jesus says that the poor in spirit are blessed.  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Let's list some possibilities that come to mind:

--hypocrite

--prone to depression

--a poverty of the pocketbook

--non-believer, someone who can't believe

--a person who is toxic to others

--someone who doesn't tell us how they really feel

--angry mindset

--gossiper

On and on I could go--what does Jesus really mean when he talks about people who are poor in spirit?  Many interpreters come to the idea that poor in spirit means someone who realizes how lacking they are in a spiritual outlook, and thus need God even more.  But as we sit and ponder all the possibilities, we see that this small passage could mean many things.

For those of us assuming that the Sermon on the Mount isn't about us, perhaps Jesus begins with this calling of the poor in spirit blessed, because who amongst us can't relate?  We've all had moments when we're impoverished that way.  Jesus calls us blessed, which may not be what we'd expect.

For those of us who see the Bible as a guidebook for moral behavior, we might see ourselves challenged to approach the text in a new way.  For those who see moral behavior as our ticket to Heaven, we might also be challenged to think differently.

Christ came to announce that God's plan for redeeming the world had begun. That plan involves our pre-death world, which is not just a place where we wait around until it's our turn to go to Heaven. No, this world is the one that God wants to redeem. Christ comes to invite us to be part of the redemptive plan.

The Sermon on the Mount might be the essential teachings of Jesus, distilled into several pages.  In this early part of the text, we see an inclusive message.  We may not be spiritually gifted, but we are blessed too.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Sunday Jan 8th

So Trinity Lutheran is back on regular schedule on Sunday - 830am and 11am in the sanctuary and 945am cross+generational worship in the hall.
We are re-affirming baptismal promises in worship and celebrating all the celebrating things like birthdays, anniversaries, sobrieties - you name it - for the Months of December and January during coffee hour.
The weather is supposed to be cool for south Florida in the morning - but our AC is on vacation at the moment - so a happy coincidence!
Blessings and see ya tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Meditation on the Baptism of Jesus

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The reading for Sunday, January 8, 2017:

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

This week's Gospel finds Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, a ministry that shows what a difference to world history a year or two can make. Notice that Jesus begins with baptism.  I love the fact that the Revised Common Lectionary returns us to the baptism of Jesus to start every year.  What a difference from the secular ways we start the year.  In today's Gospel, instead of harsh resolutions, we get the words of God: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

We tend to see Jesus as special. We can't imagine God saying the same thing about us. But in fact, from everything we can tell, God does feel that way about us. God takes on human form in its most vulnerable, as a little baby.  How much more of a demonstration of love do we need?

For those of us who are big believers in affirmations, we should print out those words and paste them on our bathroom mirrors. What does it mean, if we believe God is well pleased with us?

Many of us dwell in the land of self-loathing this time of year. Maybe we've spent too much money on our Christmas festivities. Maybe we've eaten too much in that time between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Maybe we've already broken our New Year's resolutions. We look in our mirrors and see multiple reasons to hate ourselves.

We look in the mirror and see ourselves as we imagine that the world sees us. The world looks at us and feeds us criticism: too fat, too plain, too wrinkled, too odd, too tall, too short. A diet of that commentary quickly leaves us malnourished. The world looks at us and judges us in terms of all the things we haven't accomplished yet: no child or children who don't measure up, lack of business success, a house that's too small or in the wrong neighborhood, no publication credits, no worthy creative products, the wrong kind of degree or no degree at all. Seeing ourselves through the eyes of the world means we compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to impossible standards.

No one wins this game.

Try a different practice for a week or two or 52. Look in the mirror and see yourself not as the world sees you. Look in the mirror and know that God loves you. God chose you. God delights in you.

Our spiritual forebears might have worried that this kind of practice would lead to too much pride. But frankly, our culture has changed. In a world where more people are seeking help for the diseases of depression and anxiety disorders than ever before in human history, and many of the rest of us are trying to self-medicate, perhaps we shouldn't worry too much about big-headedness.

God chose you. God delights in you. God loves you.

No matter how much you improve yourself, God will still love you. No matter how many times you lose sight of your goals and move further away from the best self that you could be, God will still love you. Of course God sees your full potential and probably hopes that you'll move in that direction. But even if you don't, God will love you anyway. No matter how miserably you've failed, God will always welcome you.

We've lived in the land of self-loathing long enough. Why cripple ourselves with this kind of thinking? There's work to be done, and the world cannot afford for you to waste time feeling bad for all the ways you've failed. Every day, remember your baptism (perhaps as you bathe, as Martin Luther recommended) and the larger meaning of your baptism.

God loves you.  Love yourself as deeply as God loves you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Meditation on Epiphany's Aftermath

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

This Sunday, Trinity Lutheran Church will ponder the Epiphany.  It's worth considering what happens when the wise men leave.  Here's a meditation on the Bible passage of Matthew 2:13-23:


After all the joy and wonder of Christmas Eve, this reading returns us to post-manger life with a thud. In this Gospel, we see Herod behaving in a way that's historically believable, if perhaps not historically accurate, as he slaughters all the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two. Why would he do such a terrible thing? Partly because he's worried about keeping his power; he's worried about what the wise men have told him, and he doesn't want any challenges. Partly because he can; he has power granted to him by Roman authorities, and that power means that he can slaughter his subjects if he sees fit to do so.

Jesus, however, escapes. A power greater than Rome protects him. Warned by an angel in a dream, Joseph flees with Mary and Jesus to Egypt, to safety. But still, the earthly power of Herod turns them into refugees.

Early in the Gospel, we see that the coming of Jesus disrupts regular life. Even before Jesus tells us that the life of a disciple is not one of material ease and comfort, we get that message. Even before Jesus warns us that following him may mean that we're on the opposite side of earthly powers, we see with our own eyes, in the story of Herod and the slaughter of the innocents.

This Gospel reminds us of the potency of power. We shouldn't underestimate the power of the State, particularly the power of a global empire. With the story of Herod, we see the limits of worldly power. Yet even within those limits, a dastardly ruler can unleash all sorts of pain and suffering. Those of us lucky enough to live under benign rulers shouldn't forget how badly life can go wrong for those who don't share our good fortune.

The Gospel reminds us of who has the true power in the story--it's God. The Gospel shows us who deserves our loyalty. And the Gospel also reminds us of the hazards of living in a universe where God is not the puppet master. In a universe that God sets free to be governed by free will, it's up to us to protect the vulnerable. And this story of Herod's slaughter reminds us of what happens when despots are allowed to rule. Sadly, it's a story that we still see playing out across the planet.

If we're not in the mood to see this Gospel in its geopolitical implications, we might take a few moments of introspection in these waning days of the year. Where do we see Herod-like behavior in ourselves? What threatens us so much that we might do treacherous deeds? What innocent goodness might we slaughter so that we can allay our fears and insecurities?

I predict that churches across the nation (and the world) will choose to ignore this difficult text on this morning after Christmas. Far better to enjoy Christmas carols one last time than to wrestle with this difficult text. But Jesus reminds us again and again that he didn't come to make us all comfortable. He didn't come to be our warm, fuzzy savior. He came to overturn the regular order, to redeem creation, to restore us to the life that God intends for us--and Herod stands as a potent symbol for what might happen if we take Jesus seriously.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

+++UPDATED INFORMATION ON THE PAT MCCAFFERTY FUNERAL++

VISITATION for Pat McCafferty will take place at Fred Hunters Funeral Home on Taft Street on Wednesday December 28th from 2PM-4PM.

The FUNERAL SERVICE will take place on THURSDAY December 29th at 10AM at Trinity Lutheran Church, Pembroke Pines, followed by burial at Fred Hunter Funeral Home Cemetery on Taft Street which will be followed by a memorial meal in Trinity's Charter Hall. If you would like to assist with the meal, please let Pastor Keith know what you would like to bring.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be made to Trinity Lutheran's Memorial Fund c/o Trinity Lutheran Church 8362 Pines Blvd Suite 431 Pembroke Pines FL 33024

The link to the online obituary and virtual guestbook are found here http://www.fredhunters.com/obitu…/170808/Ogalene-McCafferty/

Monday, December 26, 2016

PAT MCCAFFERTY UPDATED

The Funeral Service for Pat McCafferty will take place on THURSDAY December 29th at 10AM at Trinity Lutheran Church, Pembroke Pines, followed by burial at Fred Hunter Funeral Home Cemetery on Taft Street and a memorial meal in Trinity's Charter Hall. If you would like to assist with the meal, please let Pastor Keith know what you would like to bring.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be made to Trinity Lutheran's Memorial Fund c/o Trinity Lutheran Church 8362 Pines Blvd Suite 431 Pembroke Pines FL 33024

Pat McCafferty

Beloved Trinity member Pat McCafferty passed away peacefully early this morning  at VITAS hospice. Though she had been recovering well from a broken hip, other unexpected health complications had taken their toll. Funeral arrangements are still being finalized and will be shared when available. Please keep Pat's family in your prayers. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Meditation

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The readings for Sunday, December 25, 2016:

Choice 1:

First Reading: Isaiah 62:6-12

Psalm: Psalm 97

Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7

Gospel: Luke 2:[1-7] 8-20

Choice 2:

First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm: Psalm 98

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12]

Gospel: John 1:1-14

In my younger years, I'd have guessed that the Christmas story would be one of the easiest to preach.  What could go wrong when you had a story this great?  Now that I'm older, I see many pitfalls to preaching the Christmas story.

First of all, there's the fact that many people only go to church around Christmas.  This may be the only story that they hear.  For many of us, Christmas is our favorite holiday.  But it's a sanitized Christmas that we often love.

Think of the parts of the story that are left out (or not emphasized) most years:  the yoke of empire bearing down on this young couple in many ways, from the trip to Bethlehem to the fleeing Herod when the wise men launch Herod's wrath.  Think about this young couple, with so few resources, pulled into this story of God breaking though into this prison of a world.

Many Christmas sermons will focus on that sweet baby, but that approach, too, is fraught with problems.  In a Facebook post, one of my female minister friends reminded us to "please be aware that the imagery of holding a new born is not comforting to those who have not had those dreams fulfilled this year...or worse, by those who carry the great, but silent, grief of fetal loss."  She reminds us that we might not know of these losses, since often they are not discussed.

Many people I know are having trouble believing the good news that the angels sing.  It's a hard world we live in, and this year, many of us have suffered brutal losses.  It may be the intensely personal loss of horrible health news or the death of one we love.  It may be the larger loss, the suffering that drives people from their homes into perilous journeys.  We may see that we live in a world of dangerous dictators, a world where empires afflict people or refuse to act, and we may wonder where, exactly, God is breaking through.

But it is precisely in these times that we must have fortitude.  We can choose to live as people of God. We do not have to weep in the ruins of our cities. Advent has promised us that help is on the way, and Christmas gives us the Good News that the redeemer has come, and in the most unlikely circumstances.

That’s the way redemption works—not in the ways we would expect, but in surprising ways that take us where we could not dream of going, and sometimes faster than we would expect. If we could travel back in time to tell the people of 1985 that the Soviet Union would soon crumble and South Africa would be free of white rule, the people of 1985 would think we were insane. If we could travel back to the first century of the Roman empire to tell of what the followers of Jesus would accomplish, those people would laugh at us—if they even knew who Jesus was.

I'm thinking of the last time that Christmas fell on a Sunday, in December of 2011, when the world lost many great leaders, among them Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel.  I'm remembering a celebratory essay in The Washington Post by Madeleine Albright, who said of Havel: “He declared himself neither an optimist (‘because I am not sure everything ends well,’) nor a pessimist (‘because I am not sure everything ends badly’) but, instead, ‘a realist who carries hope, and hope is the belief that freedom and justice have meaning . . . and that liberty is always worth the trouble.’”

Christians, too, believe that freedom and justice have meaning and that liberty is always worth the trouble. And if we believe in the Good News that surrounds us at Christmas, we can be wild-eyed optimists. We know that things will end well; we have a multitude of promises and plenty of evidence that God will keep those promises of liberty for the captives.