The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
The entirety of the Christian faith rests on one spiritual proposition: to redeem the world, God didn’t send an army, a committee, or a plan. God sent one person, who lived in a particular place and time. Jesus was born of Mary. Through his one life we see the human face of God. We who call ourselves Christians are those who feel so drawn to his life that we seek to live our lives in light of his. Our gospel–our good news–is the story of his life.
According to the Gospel of Mark, the good news of Jesus begins with a voice crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” But how are we to prepare? How, in other words, are we to live? It’s a haunting question in a world that needs so much: as those who feel Jesus’ claim on our lives, what falls within our circle of concern?
First must be the one life we have been given to live. No one else can live our life. While we cannot minimize the effects of inequity and trauma, or the randomness of fortune and disaster, we can choose our response to life. We decide how we will live in our own skin and to what degree we will allow the grace of God in, enabling us to love in ways we could never do on our own.
Second is our sphere of relationships–family, friends, and community. It’s no small task to love well those closest to us and to own our part in the universal imperfection of relationships. It’s a daily discipline to seek the best in one another and forgive the worst. Every day we choose how we will show up with and for each other, doing our part–and sometimes more when life demands it. What a wise person once said of marriage is true for most relationships: “It’s rarely a 50/50 proposition. Sometimes you’re the one to give 100%. Other times you’re on the receiving end of the other’s disproportionate love.”
Third in our circle of concern is our work, our contribution to the greater good. Through work, we take our energies and gifts and offer them out, beyond ourselves. The realm of work is complex and it changes over time. Sometimes our work is related to what we do for a living, but not always. Sometimes we are rewarded and recognized for our work, but often we are not. Sometimes our work puts us right in the center of things, but mostly, we’re on the sidelines, working on behalf of someone else. Think of John the Baptist: his entire life was a prologue for Jesus’ ministry: “There is one who is coming who is greater than I,” he said. “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.”
In ways we still cannot fully measure, the events of 2020 have affected everything within our circles of concern. Thus as we consider how Jesus would have us live now, surely He would first invite us to acknowledge that impact, and what we’re holding in our hearts as a result. In other words, where, specifically, do we need Christ to come?
Our answers will differ according to our circumstances and the particular claims on our lives. His promise, however, is the same: Jesus comes and makes his home with us, wherever we are. He is the light that darkness cannot overcome. He is the love that shows up where love is most needed. That’s something to hold onto in the midst of all that we’ve lost. As our Presiding Bishop Curry said in a recent interview, “The truth of Christmas may be more profoundly true for us this year because everything else has been stripped away. We are not helpless. We are not alone. There’s a God that cares enough to come into this world.”
One way for us to live, then, is to embrace the particularity of our lives in this moment, and focus on singular, specific expressions of love. So often we worry that we’re not doing enough. In this holy season, why not let that worry go and choose instead, as Mother Teresa advised, to do small things with great love?
It turns out that intentional expressions of love expand our capacity to love. The love we offer, no matter how small, has a way of multiplying as it goes forth from us. When we choose to love the lives we have been given, we have more love to share. When we tend to our relationships, we build a foundation of compassion and health that reaches generations. When we do work with love, we share in God’s redeeming of the world.
There is a striking particularity about the Christian faith, focused as it is on one person, born so long ago. Yet it is the power and presence of that one life, living in us, that is our hope. It may not feel like enough but it is God’s way, in and through us.