What the world needs now…

I recently read Walter Brueggemann’s new book, Virus as a Summons to Faith, and it was exactly what I needed.

It is such a strange, unprecedented time. We are locked down here, as I suspect most of us are in some way or another. We can’t entertain or visit with friends in our apartments. Meetings and gatherings of all kinds are cancelled including Sunday Chapel services. I haven’t been in my church for going on nine months. We can’t hug our children or grandchildren or hold in our arms our newborn great-grandson. We have been asked to refrain from leaving our apartments except for absolutely necessary trips to drug and grocery stores. Keeping a doctor appointment has become a new source of adventure and excitement. The sense of isolation, separation from family and friends and communities that give life grounding and reinforce our identity, is remarkable.

In the meantime two crises rage around us. The Pandemic continues to claim the lives of thousands of Americans and we are warned daily that we are vulnerable, and that this virus is far from stopped. The second crisis, of course, is the most bizarre and dangerous threat to our system of government since states seceded and precipitated a Civil War. The President of the United States is engaged in a full time, all out, assault on truth and reality, claiming hourly, without a shred of evidence, that he, and not the clear and certified winner, was re-elected President. Millions of Americans believe him. Leaders of one of our major political parties either support his assault on reality or, by their silence, condone it. It all would be laughable if history did not remind us that it actually happened once, in Germany in the 1930’s. Nazi propaganda and lies, repeated over and over again, actually succeeded in persuading much of a nation to abandon truth and reality and their democratic system of government in favor of Nazi ideology and Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship.

So Brueggemann’s book was exactly what I needed. In seven tight chapters, exegeting and commenting on seven passages of Hebrew scripture and the historical context surrounding each, Brueggemann reminded me of the very basis of the faith I claim and embrace. Even in the darkest circumstances: Egyptian slavery, military defeat, exile and Babylonian captivity, political oppression, pogroms, persecution and Holocaust, God is present not only to comfort but also give and inspire what the author calls “relentless, uncompromising hope.”

Brueggemann’s friend, Rabbi Nahum Ward-Lev wrote a strong foreward to the book in which he observed: “Many people are sitting with the stark awareness that the world we knew is gone. There is no going back. Humankind faces a new and daunting learning challenge. We are called to learn how to peaceably relinquish the old world and how to imaginatively give birth to a new world in which all life can flourish.”

That is the issue that occupied Israel’s prophets. The power and relevance of the prophetic tradition is that it not only announces God’s judgement but also proclaims that God is present, even in the midst of calamity. God does not abandon. God does not forget and because of God’s uninterrupted steadfast love the prophets promise that there will be restoration, redemption, renewal. That saving promise comes to God’s people even in the darkest tragedy, even in Pandemic.

Jeremiah, above all, does not shy away from tragedy and suffering. Brueggemann points out that more than any other witness in the Old Testament, “Jeremiah leans most deeply and most honestly into the disaster of his people.” But even gloomy Jeremiah can see a time of restoration – “the sound of festival will again be heard. Life will resume in its thick social richness.” “Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts” Jeremiah urges, “For the Lord is good: his steadfast love endures forever.”

Faith, trust in this God, Brueggemann concludes, means that we will become people of “relentless, uncompromising hope.” “God will not quit until God has arrived at God’s good intent. We, and all God’s creation will come to well-being.”

Until I read and pondered those words I confess that I was having a difficult time generating much of a Christmas mood this year. Much of what I love about Christmas is simply not happening…but just maybe that is exactly why the infant’s birth in a Bethlehem stable can become more meaningful this year than ever.

After all, he entered the world during a time of cruel political oppression and military occupation. His young mother had appeared to be pregnant before she was properly married. And then she and her betrothed were summoned to Bethlehem, 95 miles from their home in Nazareth to be counted in a Roman census. I’m thinking about that lonely journey a lot this year. How many miles did they cover in a day? Where did they sleep? What did they eat? She was heavily pregnant and presumably rode much of the way on a donkey, in itself a physical ordeal. It must have been terribly difficult. And when they finally reached their destination the only available lodging was in a cattle barn.

The Christian story begins in dark, difficult, lonely circumstances. Mary gave birth in a cattle stall. The Word was made flesh and came among us in the cows’ feed box. The first to hear about and celebrate it were from society’s lowest ladder rung, lowly shepherds.

It’s an amazing story. Shorn of all the accoutrements that have attached to it over the years, it shines as perhaps never before.

God has not forgotten. God has not abandoned. God is with us. God comes to be with us again. Thanks be to God

Comments

  1. bandhdmitchellbmm0226 says:

    Amen John. I trust that we’ll hear some of this on Sunday! Thanks, HD

    On Fri, Dec 18, 2020 at 9:58 AM Hold to the Good wrote:

    > John M. Buchanan posted: ” I recently read Walter Brueggemann’s new > book, Virus as a Summons to Faith, and it was exactly what I needed.It is > such a strange, unprecedented time. We are locked down here, as I suspect > most of us are in some way or another. We can’t entertain or visi” >

  2. Cynthia M. Campbell says:

    Thanks, John, for this strong, faithful, hopeful word. This year we will do best to celebrate by pondering — reflecting deeply on the long sweep of God’s promises and presence. I am so grateful for the way you continue to make that presence real in ways that touch hearts and motivate faithful action. Christmas blessings, Cynthia

  3. Once again, thank you for healing our hearts and souls.

    Merry Christmas, Joel and Sandy Mathias

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Brian and Susan Johnson says:

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, John. Brian and I read your blog regularly, and are so grateful for your thoughts and faith. We miss your sermons, here in Arizona, and need to hear from you on a regular basis. Continued good health to you and yours during this difficult time of separation, but not from God. We shall try to “Hold to the Good!”

  5. Thank you very much. Just as you needed the book, I needed your post about it. Peace be with you.

  6. LLANI OCONNOR says:

    Dear John;

    People – many – say it has been worse. But, not for me. I do not expect to “reap the rewards” of a new society that needs to be created. I will help create it however. I wonder what Brueggemann had to say about the very deep division in this country. It had been sleeping under rocks until trump enabled its flowering! It is not going to return to sleep under any rocks. I read once that propaganda only falls on fertile ground; that one has to want to believe it.

    I remember some time ago when you said to me “…Llani, perhaps they read and interpret the Bible differently from the way you do…”. Pardon the paraphrasing. It has stuck with me as I view the plight of those less fortunate; as I see the internecine battles among people vying to be “the leader” of the blacks in St. Pete; it is hard hold my tongue when I see motivations for self-aggrandizement greater than motivations to help the people who really need help; it is hard to say nothing when people refuse to engage in the political process trusting those w/less pure motives to help them.

    It is interesting being in the South and FL is the South save around the coast. I attend a lot of talks, chats, discussions, zooms now since in-person is not healthy and there are a lot of people trying to help. And, there are many levels of knowledge about racism and most do not get it – for a variety of reasons.

    I am wandering but these issues are very much on my mind and I have been very active politically to change things and one big change has been accomplished but the disease is still there.

    Thanks for listening. I hope you and Sue are well. Happy & Safe Holidays,

    Llani

    >

  7. LLANI OCONNOR says:

    > > > From: LLANI OCONNOR > Subject: Re: A Georgia Election Intention > Date: December 18, 2020 at 12:26:31 PM EST > > >>

  8. Terri Hanson says:

    Thank you for this John. As always, you articulate profound ponderings and help me see anew the love of God that is available to be expressed in relentless hope. Just what I wanted for Christmas! Love to you and Sue. Tony and I miss you! Terri Hanson

  9. Stephen W. Littell says:

    Thank you, John, for shining a hopeful light. Good health and a happy year to you and Sue.

  10. Thank you for this John–needed so much now as a reminder of how hope born of faith is a touchstone in difficult times.

  11. ”The sounds of festival will again be heard” — uncovered beneath all that lament — trusting through these wilderness events — social isolation tolling — exhausted but resilient — Sonja knows — come by often, John — blesses me it does

  12. Thank you John…reading you writings always makes feel better.
    With hope

  13. Beth Hawthorne says:

    Thank you, again, for your message of faithfulness and hopefulness. Merry Christmas to you and Sue.
    Beth Hawthorne

  14. Molly Britt says:

    Beautiful, as always. You will enjoy this tidbit from The Week (if you haven’t already seen)

    2020: The worst year since …

    [The Week cover]Is 2020 is “the worst year ever”? asked Stephanie Zacharek at Time. “Most of us alive today have seen nothing like this one.” Not since the spread of fascism in the 1930s “have we been faced with so many abnormal events that have been so egregiously distorted by aberrant leadership.” We witnessed “apocalyptic” wildfire devastation in California, watched George Floyd’s life gruesomely snuffed out by Minneapolis police, and saw a presidential election “contested on the basis of fantasy.” Above all, we’ve suffered because of a virus that’s killed 1.5 million, destroyed millions of livelihoods, and upended “the lives of virtually everyone on the planet.” Isolated in our bubbles, we’ve looked out “at a world that seemed to be falling apart.”

    It was bad, said Robert Allison at the Charleston, South Carolina, Post and Courier, but when it comes to worst, it’s not even a contender. Take 1919, after World War I killed 20 million and devastated Europe, when the death toll of the Spanish flu epidemic reached 50 million. Or 1968, when MLK Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were gunned down, America’s cities burned, a losing war in Vietnam divided the nation, and the Hong Kong flu killed a million. Then there’s 1942, said Richard Chin at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “the year of the Bataan death march, the deadliest months of the Holocaust, and the beginning of the battle of Stalingrad.” Or any year of the Civil War. Or consider 536, when a volcanic eruption in Iceland sent a dark cloud over Europe and Asia that caused “plunging temperatures, crop failures,” and millions of starvation deaths. “In the long scheme of human suffering over the ages, we ain’t seen nothing.”

    Yes, 2020 was rough, said Daniel Riley at GQ, but “for so many aspects of life that needed changing, the pandemic was an accelerant.” It opened the door to new ways of working, and with car and plane traffic way down, it “offered a trial run” on reducing carbon emissions. We had a “long-overdue reckoning” with our policing, and “reimagined our cities,” with streets closed to traffic and outdoor dining flourishing. We learned to value what matters. In the future we may look back on 2020 not as a relentless slog of misfortune, but as “the year the future was born.”

    From: Hold to the Good
    Reply-To: Hold to the Good
    Date: Friday, December 18, 2020 at 7:58 AM
    To: Molly Britt
    Subject: [New post] What the world needs now…

    John M. Buchanan posted: ” I recently read Walter Brueggemann’s new book, Virus as a Summons to Faith, and it was exactly what I needed.It is such a strange, unprecedented time. We are locked down here, as I suspect most of us are in some way or another. We can’t entertain or visi”

  15. Alison A Chisolm says:

    Ah John. I can hear you preaching these words and it warms my heart. As always, you forever repeat the comforting words of the Christmastide — fear not — and the message of my favorite Psalm, Psalm 139 — we cannot escape God’s loving presence. Be well and Merry Christmas to you and Sue. xoxo Alison

  16. Thank you for these inspiring words John. Much, much needed. I hope you and your family can have a peaceful and healthy holiday season.

  17. Barbara Fountain says:

    Praying that you and Sue have a meaningful Christmas.

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