One of my favorite Episcopal authors, Madeleine L’Engle in her book, The Glorious Impossible, wrote: “Possible things are easy to believe. The Glorious Impossibles are those things that bring joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, songs to our lips.” Each year during the 12 Days of Christmas, we face once again “The Glorious Impossible” in our recounting and celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, and his impact on our lives.
The Prologue of the Gospel of John proclaims: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” There is a quite significant debate being waged in present day America on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Many, I included, argue that the Jesus of many of our churches and leaders has been so whitewashed as to bear very little resemblance to the Christ of the Gospels. Jesus often powerfully spoke out on this very subject, such as in Matthew 23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and the Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Certainly, at one level or another, most of us have participated in the whitewashing of Jesus to suit our own thoughts, beliefs, and practices. And yet to be children of God and followers of Jesus, we ourselves are summoned to be not ordinary and possible, but to be the glorious impossible in our faith, words, and actions.
The witness and ideas of German theologian and Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, still calls for our attention some 75 years since he was put to death for his resistance to Hitler and the Nazi Party. Listen to what he wrote from prison, “To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself on the basis of some method or other, but to be a person—not a type of person, but the person that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.” Bonhoeffer said aloud what we believe in our hearts and minds to be true, but often struggle with both the idea and practice of being that person that Christ has created in us.
That there is suffering and sin in life, is not something that anyone would argue to the contrary; this is why God came into the world in the form of a baby born to poor parents in a stable. The very birth of Jesus announced that to follow Him, to be a Christian, would mean that you and I become a bearer of Him to others—to our family, friends, community, nation, and especially to the poor, the marginalized, and the persecuted. This is what it means to accept Jesus and be a child of God.
Anglican Bishop of Durham and theologian, N.T. Wright has written, “The key word of course is ‘love,’ and much has been written about that in itself. But I want to draw attention to something else—something often ignored in the clamor for better and clearer rules of Christian behavior: that we should be positively kind to one another…tender hearted…as God in Christ.” Could it be in this Christmastide that God is calling all of us, our nation’s leaders, institutions, news and social media folk, and churches to be children of God through our kindness? What do you think? How can you practice kindness as we move into 2020? Fred Rogers once said: “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”
I end where I began this writing: in the “Glorious Impossible,” where not only joy and hope is found, but kindness is practiced. Can we commit to being children of God in this New Year by practicing kindness? “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…”