Bending the Arc of the Universe – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Isaiah 9:2-7 / Psalm 96:1-4, 11-12 / Titus 2:11-14 / Luke 2:1-20

Christmas is here again!  It’s a dark night – it’s a very dark world right now.  And yet, on this night, this holy night, joy bubbles up!  Joy, that God has come into our world, and given to us a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  The joy that Isaiah announced to Israel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2)  The joy that the angels announced to the shepherds: “Behold I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” (Luke 2:10)

This joy, this good news, is proclaimed in the very midst of the darkness; “The light shines in the darkness” says St. John, “and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

But if we’re honest, sometimes it feels as if the darkness is overcoming the light.  For many people, this Christmas is one of heightened grief and sorrow.  Isaiah proclaims that the light has come into the world, that God has sent us a Son, and that he will establish righteousness and justice.  But for many people right now, what they are experiencing is profound injustice.  On this second anniversary of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, the culture of gun violence in this country seems to be spinning out of control.  The recent killing of unarmed black men forces us to face the sin of racism which still scars our land.  The reports outlining some of the appalling techniques used by the CIA to question their prisoners, invite us to pray these words of the Confession, “Forgive us the sins done on our behalf.”

All these things wound us and diminish us, as they violate the dignity, the sacredness of human life.

Another cause for grief this Christmas time, for many people and especially for us brothers, was the death of our brother and bishop Tom Shaw.  As I was reflecting on so much injustice in our country right now, I remembered how courageously Tom had always stood up for those who were most vulnerable in our society and of his unwavering vision for justice.  When I preached at Tom’s funeral, I spoke these words,

“All Tom’s passion for justice had its source in this vision: he saw that every single individual had been wonderfully created in the image of God, and anything which stopped them becoming more fully the person God made them to be, from reaching their full glory, was not just unjust but sinful.  Sinful to have even one beautiful life stunted or blighted or wiped out because of that person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, class, vulnerability or disability.  And he fought such sin with courage.”

We who are Christians, are each and every one of us called to fight the same battle for justice and righteousness, and however hard and uphill the struggle sometimes seems, we will win!  For “a child has been born for us … and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace – and there shall be endless peace, for he will establish it, and uphold it with justice and with righteousness.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

We will win, because when God sent Jesus to be born for us, he didn’t just send a great teacher, a great example, a great prophet, he sent a savior.  Because we need a savior – to save us from our sins, to save us from our violence, to save us from destroying our world and everyone in it.  His very name Jesus, means “he saves.”

And that is why tonight, we are here to rejoice – to rejoice with the shepherds and the angels and the whole host of heaven, that “to you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

Because we have a Savior, we have this incredible gift of hope.

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu was asked if he was optimistic about peace in the Middle East, he said, No I’m not.  But I am hopeful.  Because I’m a Christian.  We are a people of hope.  Christmas is about the gift of hope.  “The zeal of the Lord will do it!” (Isaiah 9:7)   It’s a promise.  It may take some time, but justice will prevail.  It’s a promise!

You may know that famous phrase, used by Martin Luther King, Jr.  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  Those words were actually first used by Theodore Parker, a New England minister preaching in 1810 about abolishing slavery.  He went on to say, “Things refuse to be mismanaged long.  Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery, and remembered that God is just.  Ere long, all America will tremble.”

The arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  For in Jesus God comes to save us: God is with us: Emmanuel.  We are a people of hope.

The arc is bending toward justice.  Just when everything seems hopeless, suddenly walls of oppression and injustice come tumbling down – like the Berlin Wall itself: like the apartheid in South Africa: like the miraculous eradication of diseases, like growing freedom and justice for women, for those in same sex relationships.  Even in the Church of England – after so many years of prayer and struggle – suddenly, Libby Lane is to be ordained the first woman bishop in a few weeks.  (When Desmond Tutu heard this he said Yippee!)

So this Christmas, ask God for the gift of hope.  Hope is a supernatural gift.  It’s not the result of mere rational thinking – it’s a gift – like faith and love.  Hope can well up from within, like a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

But hope also challenges us: challenges us to do our part in slowly bending the arc of the universe towards justice.

How wonderful to get to the end of our lives and be able to say ‘I did something, something to help bend the arc of the universe towards justice’!

So at this first Eucharist of Christmas, as you come to receive communion, gaze at the baby Jesus in the manger – God’s gift, God’s saving gift to us at Christmas.  And give thanks to God by offering your life to be used to help bring hope and justice into the world.  Maybe tonight, pledge one thing, one practical thing, which will bring light, justice and hope into one other person’s life.  What will it be?

May God bless you, as you reach up to pull on that arc of the universe, may Christ the Morning Star rise in your hearts, and may you and your loved ones have a truly joyful, hopeful and blessed Christmas.


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