Dear Family and Friends,
At the Funeral Mass of my father on October 2nd, I read some verses from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Most of my generation remembers these words, in a slightly different form, as the lyrics of the 60’s pop song Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die…
A time to weep and a time to laugh…
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
The flag-draped casket, the Honor Guard at the cemetery, the rifle volley, the bugler playing Taps—these were a fitting tribute to conclude the 93-year-long adventure that was my father’s life. I confess that it’s been hard for me to imagine that the old man I knew was once the handsome, cocky 20-year-old posing with his flight crew by the B-24 Liberator they flew on bombing runs over Austria in World War II. Harder still to imagine what it must have been like to get shot down behind enemy lines and have to walk out in winter, ever watchful for German soldiers and sympathizers.
According to C.S. Lewis, we have all been dropped behind enemy lines. In Mere Christianity, he says, “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
To understand what he means by enemy-occupied territory, one only has to watch a single episode of the evening news on any network. Thirty minutes of horror, minus time for drug commercials—supposedly aimed at alleviating some of that terror—and the obligatory two-minute “good news” segment. One wonders if, like cigarettes, the nightly news needs a black box health warning from the Surgeon General.
But we are saboteurs—called by God to undermine this world’s notion that death has the final say, that fear trumps all. Disguised as a helpless baby and later as a poor journeyman and preacher, Jesus orders his troops to demonstrate love and kindness to all, inclusion to the marginalized, healing to the hurt, joy to those who mourn. Rejected by the church of his day, he preferred to dine with the disenfranchised, with paupers rather than princes. He says, “ I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Our Commander-in-Chief goes on to say, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
So every good deed, no matter how small, becomes subversive. When you paid for that stranger’s coffee at Starbucks, gave a Subway sandwich to the man asking for food with a scrawled cardboard sign, relinquished your place in line to someone else in a greater hurry, spoke a word of kindness to the waitress or cashier obviously having a bad day, you pushed back the darkness ever so slightly. When you contributed money to relief efforts in Texas and California and Puerto Rico, you put a human face on suffering and scored a victory for the Resistance. Your smile, your hope, your peace are acts of defiance. They plant a virus in the world system.
Think of your small groups and fellowships and Bible Studies as gatherings of partisans, meeting to bandage wounds, to debrief victories and defeats, to strengthen each other for the battles yet to come.
We know our faith does not give us a free pass—sickness and death are common to all. But we know that in our pain and suffering we are held. Our God is Emmanuel, God-with-us, sharing our burdens, comforting our sorrows. He is not an abstract First Principle or a Higher Power, but a Man-God here in the trenches with us. He says simply, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” When we do that, we get our marching orders from the King: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
Of all the billions of people on this Pale Blue Dot, we have the most reason to be joyful this holiday season and throughout the year. We are Resurrection People, Children of the Light, followers of the one true King. We know how the story ends, and it ends far better than we could have possibly imagined.
So in the coming New Year, if you find yourself succumbing to the evening news, please call to mind Paul’s words:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus tells us to be at peace because He has overcome the world. This Christmas-tide, may His peace take roots deep within you. May His joy be your ever-present companion on your journey to the light.
Long live the Resistance!
Bill and Sharon