Christmas Realities

I write this in the predawn hours sitting beside Linda’s bed as she drifts further into the darkness of dementia. Personal grief hovers like a foreboding storm cloud.

The news is dominated by a dysfunctional government caught in the tug of war over a border wall. Political instability is spawning authoritarianism here and around the world and tribalism is shattering  the common good.

Reports of a plummeting stock market compounds uncertainty and anxiety. Will there be enough in pensions and savings to meet the escalating costs of basic needs?

Accounts of more violence in our local community  have become part of the daily news, and this morning is no exception.

While I read these news reports and ponder present and impending loss, Christmas carols play in the background: “Silent Night,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “What Child Is This,” “Away in a Manger.”

The dissonance is palpable! All is not calm and bright! Peace and goodwill seem an idle dream.

The surrounding darkness,  widespread discord, and lurking danger seem to render images of a babe lying peacefully in a manger and a heavenly choir harmoniously singing to lowly shepherds a fanciful escape from the real world.

But, no! The Christmas story as told in the Gospels IS THE REAL WORLD! The infinite and eternal God enters the finite and temporal. The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us.

In the midst of political oppression and economic injustice of the Roman despots Herod and Quirinius, a baby is born to a peasant teenager.

Made homeless by governmental decree, Mary gives birth in a stable in the dark of the night in the remote village of Bethlehem.

Fleeing brutality and violence, the vulnerable family migrate to Egypt as an insecure emperor cruelly slaughters innocent children. The wailing of grieving mothers pierces the silent night.

Grief, poverty, homelessness, migration, violence, dysfunctional governments, power hungry politicians! We know these realities all too well!

Christmas, however, speaks of another reality which beckons us toward a new world where

  • the least and most vulnerable birth God’s presence and purposes
  • the power of love supersedes the love of power
  • the poor and powerless have access to  God’s abundance
  • bridges of hospitality replace walls of exclusion
  • the grieving are not left alone with their tears
  •  forgiveness erases vengeance
  • kindness blots out cruelty
  • peace and goodwill supplant war and hostility

Here is the Good News of Christmas: God’s reality wins! “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it!” That’s the gospel truth!

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “Christmas Realities

  1. A poignant reminder of the “God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.” Like you, Bishop Carder, I often sit @ the bedside of my partner of 25 yrs. who is also descending into dementia’s darkness. My heart breaks daily, but if she could speak, this dear woman, who was a minister of the gospel, would remind me, “God is our refuge & strength, a very present help in trouble.” I don’t always feel it, but I believe it. A stream of well meaning groups have come to the facility where she resides to sing the ancient carols, never failing to lift our spirits. We are grateful. But I know when the tinsel is taken down, & visitors dwindle, the God she served so faithfully, remains – as do I — holding her hand, and knowing God has not forgotten her. Bless you, sir, for your helpful words.

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  2. Very much enjoy your messages. I, too, was on that same path your family is on. I really enjoyed your sermons the times you were a guest at Union. Your voice is so reasurring and it makes it easy to listen and understand. Blessing to all …God is good all the time.

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  3. Dear Bishop Carder,

    You write beautifully of the hope and expectation of Advent and fearlessly acknowledge being experienced by all but a relatively few of the global population—dysfunctional governments and violence around the world, including the U.S.; despots in power in the US and other parts of the Americas as well as Asia, Africa and parts of Europe; personal and family travails propelled by poverty, racism and other forms of criminal violence.

    I can not deny that there are glimpses of hope here and there, among them the interfaith groups gathering at the southern southern border of the US; an international and interfaith group working together to restore Bethlehem as a place of peace for Muslim, Christian and Jewish faithful, to name just a couple.

    Nevertheless less than 48 hours before the dawn of Christmas Day in the central US we realize that after these two days have passed we will still be waiting in darkness. The songs celebrating the Christ-child’s arrival will have been stilled and only the alcohol-stimulated laughter of New Year’s Eve and cheering or jeering over endless games of football in the US will postpone the realization for a few more days.

    In all seriousness must we not ask once again “How long, O Lord”? Is it an act of bad faith to posit that what we are up against is an Evil that will not be conquered by hymns, bright stars overhead, or children’s pageants?

    I do not write of a supernatural Evil, but of that which lurks not only among tyrants and criminals of every stripe, but also in my heart and yours. What can and will the faithful do to bring in a new reality?

    Wishes for grace and above all peace!

    Morris Floyd

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful, challenging response. Evil is pervasive and I agree that It is appropriate to ask, “How long, O Lord?” And, our “hymns, bright stars overhead, or children’s pageants” will not banish the evil. We must LIVE the Christmas story by welcoming the stranger, enter solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, challenge the ruthless exercise of political power, and advocate and practice justice and compassion in all our relationships and actions. The point I am trying to make is that God comes amid the Evil and is ever working to defeat it. We can join God’s action with confidence and hope, knowing that ultimately God will win. Blessings to you!

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  4. Rev. Carder: you are with your wife Linda,even whether she consciously knows or not, in the same way God is with us even in our darkest days,,and,that makes all the difference. Emmanuel!

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  5. I was born in January, 1938. The first Christmas I remember was 1940, when I was first learning to sing Christmas carols, and received my first kitten as my most treasured gift. The memories of 1941 are clearer, with a vivid memory of hearing of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into WWII. The world looked far more bleak than it does now. But we sang Christmas carols, “White Christmas”, and “God Bless America”, praying for peace and for strength to live through the horrors of war. My mother taught me the 10 Commandments, and I asked her (about “Thou Shalt Not Kill”) “What about the soldiers?” She told me that was different. I asked “But how is it different?” I don’t remember her answer, but nobody has ever been able to give me a good one. I suppose I inherited my pacifism from my Quaker ancestors. WWII was a war we had to fight, for otherwise the evil loose in our world would have overwhelmed us. But why must we continue to fight petty wars for insufficient reasons, which nevertheless destroy people and things and even whole countries? Yet, God’s love continues to be stronger than human passion and greed, and we still sing Christmas carols and hope for peace, just as we did when I was a child. God bless you, Bishop, and give you strength as you keep watch over your beloved. Thank you for sharing and for listening to us.

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful response. I, too, tend to be a pacifist, but realize the issues are enormously complex when confronting evil such as Nazism. May we all learn to live in peace as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace!

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  6. Ken, a most meaningful writing as we welcome another Christmas in the midst of such suffering. What power and love we have leaning in our oving God.

    Sandra Marrs Dimick is my sister and I too graduated from Training School. Since I am four years older than Sandra you and I never met. I am inspired by all you have accomplished and are accomplishing as you share your love of God by serving all God’s children. Have a peaceful, loving Christmas and New Year. Patsy Marrs Wilson

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  7. Thank you, Ken, for your continued eloquent witness to the truth and power of the Gospel which gives us all the fullness of God in grace upon grace. Your care of Linda is a beautiful expression of your love for her. You have never forgotten who she is. Your challenge to the ruling powers of darkness is a powerful testimony to the ultimate power of the Gospel. Thank you for reminding us of the Christ who is God incarnate.–Grady Winegar

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  8. Ken – I suppose it has now been on the order of 35 years sice we were both at First Church in Oak Ridge. Your witness was inspirational then, and I am grateful to have stumbled across your blog to experience today’s version of it. Thank you for being the blessing you’ve always been. My best wishes to, and prayers for, you and Linda. — Max Morris

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