Christmas is a time of joy, hope and miracles. In the Gospels we read of God using ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the miracle of Jesus’ birth.
I appreciate the account in Luke 1 of an angelic visitation to a young woman of no influence or affluence. It is a miracle that God chose humble Mary for this exalted role.
Mary received a supernatural visitation. This leads me to think of the many people in our communities who long for a human visitation. We can bring them a touch of divine love.
The angel came to Mary with good news, announcing God’s favor. We too have good news to share.
Miracles come in many shapes and sizes. For me, a congregation in Arizona sets an example of extraordinary work by ordinary people through God’s power.
Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Tucson is one of the churches I serve as a regional conference minister in Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA. Tina Schlabach and Carol Rose are the co-pastors.
Rose describes Shalom as a miracle of racial, linguistic, class, theological, experiential, and educational diversity.
The congregation includes several resettled refugee families from the Democratic Republic of Congo. (They lived in the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania for many years before coming to the United States.) There are also Latino families and white members.
Some came from other Mennonite churches (including a Mennonite church in the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp), and some are new to the Anabaptist faith tradition.
I am amazed by the extraordinary work done through Shalom’s pen-pal program with women and men from many countries held in immigration prisons. Tina Schlabach helped begin the Casa Mariposa Detention Visitation Program, which advocates for the many migrants who are held for long periods of time in these prisons as they apply for asylum.
It brings peace to my mind that in these ministries she and others carry hope for the hopeless and serve as brokers of peace and reconciliation.
Shalom shines the light, hope and peace of Christ through the beloved tradition of a Christmas Eve service, which concludes by passing candlelight around a circle while singing “Silent Night” in Kibembe (a Bantu language), English and Spanish.
The candlelight signifies that although the worshipers come from different backgrounds and statuses, they are one in Christ. Despite their diversity and struggles, the light of Christ unites them.
Last year Shalom’s Christmas Eve service was held on Zoom (a miracle in itself). This year they plan to gather outside and share cookies, hot chocolate and cider.
I am excited about Shalom’s Christmas theme, “Dare to Imagine,” using the worship resources in Leader, published by MC USA. They will dare to imagine a world of peace and healing and discover their part in bringing that about.
Shalom is growing in love and respect for each other despite differences over mask-wearing and vaccines. They are remembering a principle of being an intercultural church: The church is God’s project.
Amid different perspectives about the pandemic, members respect each other’s stances rather than complain about the differences. This is ongoing spiritual work for them.
Schlabach says a wise Indigenous friend of the church, Sarah Augustine, counseled white members who eagerly got vaccines to remember it is easier for white people to trust pharmaceutical companies and the government. White people have been privileged by these companies. In contrast, the companies have done questionable testing of their products in poorer nations.
Augustine has helped them not to judge people of color who mistrust the COVID vaccines but to realize that this hesitance is an understandable response to global structural inequality. This awareness is a powerful testimony and an extraordinary example of unity.
At Christmas, Shalom looks with great expectation for God-with-us — Emmanuel. The theme, “Dare to Imagine,” resonates with me in this season of hope. Does it resonate with you?
I invite you to imagine your dream, your hope. Dare to imagine peace, justice and reconciliation. Where do you see the signs of hope, even the miracles, happening in your congregation and community?
What is your Christmas expectation? Dare to imagine it! With God, nothing is impossible.