Powell: Where’s the joy in tense times?

An acquaintance said to me, “Another year is almost over. Christmas will soon be here. I can’t get into the spirit with all the divisiveness around me. When will it stop?”

John Powell

She was expressing what many people are feeling: anxiety. They experience the current state of our communities and relationships as the worst of times.

We have begun the rites — re­ligious and secular — of the Christmas season. Christmas music is heard throughout the stores. People are hurriedly shopping. They might appear jubilant, but are they? They pass each other without acknowledging the other’s existence.

While this is not new, this year seems a little bit different. There’s tension in the air.

The political chasm that exists among us has left us emotionally drained. The joy that should come during this time of year is drowned out.

The peace we desire is lacking. Ideological differences divide families and friends. We don’t take the time to hear each other’s concerns.

Yet there is good news. There is hope for a reconciled people!
Christmas is about peace and reconciliation.

The Christ Child was born into an era much like ours today, where political strife, violence, bigotry, power grabbing and greed abounded. The powerless were marginalized by political and religious forces.

Speaking through Isaiah, God promised a peacemaker and reconciler who would establish and uphold justice (Isaiah 9:6-7). In the midst of religious and political unrest, the promise was kept. Jesus’s birth ushered in God’s promises for a new beginning.

The pivotal intent of the Christ Event is to show us how to be reconciled to God and each other.

We live in a world where self-centeredness has become the norm. We fight to gain the upper hand. When other people’s desires and self-centeredness clash with ours, hostilities emerge. Our relationships become toxic, affecting how we relate to our community and nation.

People seem to be giving up on peace and reconciliation, because changing another’s attitude is difficult.

A movement toward reconciliation has to start somewhere. And that somewhere is each of us.

We have been given the joyous work of being ambassadors of reconciliation by the child whose birthday we celebrate in a few weeks (2 Cor. 5:17-20a).

It is hard work. The toxic environment of our relationships can be harsh toward the reconciler.

We are faced with following one of two leaders, one who says, “I alone can fix it,” or the one who says, “I am the way the truth and the life.”

I choose the latter.

Following the path of Jesus is the place to start. His encounters were always about reconciling people to God and each other. Jesus dealt with people’s beliefs in ways that disarmed them. He was direct, compassionate and forgiving. I am convinced that his example shows the way toward reconciliation.

I’m not so naïve to think all the reconciliation we need will happen during my lifetime.

As citizens of the nation of God, we are called to initiate reconciled relationships. It takes faith, patience, honesty, humbleness, readiness.

As you approach the celebration of Jesus’ birth, are you ready for reconciliation?

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

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