Like many of you, I have spent the last few months watching in awe and not a little horror as our world has appeared to grow darker and darker. As the Northern Hemisphere has turned away from the sun and the days have grown shorter, it feels like our society has followed the natural cycles, and descended into a similar kind of darkness. Headlines and news tickers and Facebook memes flash fear and hatred and violence, and we are inclined to withdraw into ourselves. There is talk of fortifying our borders against immigrants and refugees, and some have even begun acting out against their neighbors. The homes of American citizens are being vandalized, their houses of worship are being desecrated, and they are being made victims of violence, simply because they appear to fit someone’s stereotype of a terrorist. Unfortunately in these scenarios, the terrorists are not the victims but the perpetrators of these incredibly un-American and un-Christian acts. Allan Boesak, the South African anti-apartheid activist and cleric, recently said in a speech that I attended, “If a god is the thing we turn to when all else fails, then violence is certainly our god today.”
But here, at this darkest moment of the year, when the days are as short as they will be, and the wind whips across barren ground, we have a different story to tell. It is a story that is for everyone, not just for Christians. It is a story that runs exactly and completely counter to the headlines and memes that would insist that violence is the only answer to the world’s problems. We tell this story on the longest night of the year, huddled around candles in darkened churches. We tell this story in children’s voices, as they stand before us dressed in old bathrobes and paper crowns. We tell this story in hushed voices and in rousing anthems, in carols and in packages under the tree. It is a story of radical hospitality and unparalleled love. It is the story of God.
It is the story of God coming into the world, breaking through the barriers that we put up between ourselves and God, between ourselves and others. According to this story, God is not interested in building walls or shutting people out. In this story, God is interested in knowing us, in loving us, and in being in relationship with us. So much does God want to know us that God’s Son is born as one of us, lives as one of us, and dies as one of us. And in the meantime, in his life on earth, that Son welcomes all. Gentiles and Jews, sinners and tax collectors, women and men of all nations are drawn to Jesus, and he opens his arms to every one of them.
This story stands in contrast to the story of our times, the human story. We have been down this path before. We have made violence our god before – gas chambers and lynching trees and internment camps and countless wars that have left individuals, families, and nations broken beyond repair. It is the same story that led Jesus to a cross 2000 years ago, when once again we turned to violence as our last resort.
And yet God does not depend on us to turn to God. If God waited until we were ready to renounce violence and turn only to God for our answers, well, it would be a long wait. Instead, God comes to us. And when we turn to violence, God turns that violence on its head, so that a cross becomes and empty tomb, and death and violence do not and cannot have the final word.
Which means that we are free. We are free to step away from the path of violence, and to turn instead to the path of radical hospitality, the path that God has blazed for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s radical hospitality risks everything for our sake, meeting us where we are. This is the radical hospitality that we are called to, opening our arms and our hearts to others, those who do not look, sound, or even worship like us. This kind of hospitality is not born of fear, violence, or hatred. It is born of love. It is born in a manger, in a small backwater town at the edge of an empire. It is born so that the light will shine in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it. And its name is Emmanuel, God with us.