Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Fragrance of Hope: Bethlehem

From today's Times and News-Star

Some days, everything’s whipped cream and sunshine.

The grits stay hot, the lights stay green, everything’s funny and your team wins.

But other days … the shadows show up. Then they take over. CNN Days, I call them. A counting of fatalities. An ongoing investigation. News about the shooter’s past. Features on the victims’ families. Shooter is usually singular and victim is usually plural.

Those are the days when I get awfully quiet. I wonder if you are the same. I wonder if you just want to pull the shades down and the covers up, feeling too discouraged and too helpless to do anything, including waste any more time trying to figure it out how to make it better, and where it all went wrong.

The question of why God allows suffering is one that won’t be fully answered here, due to limitations of both space and intellect. But at this time of the year, maybe more so at Easter, we know that the God of the Bible suffers with us. The manger tells us he suffers with us, the cross tells us he suffers for us. So while we might not understand why these tragic events are allowed to happen, we do know that it’s not because God doesn’t love us. This is a perfect prince who became a pauper, one who knows what it’s like to lose the most precious of earthly gifts – a child – and at the hands of unjust, evil men.

Suffering is never because God doesn’t love us.

I heard this song for the first time Sunday, “The Rose of Bethlehem.”

“There’s a fragrance much like hope
That it sends upon the wind
Reaching out to every soul
From a lowly manger’s crib…”

Hope. Through the miracle of the manger. Hope that a world insane will be set right, that evil fails and right prevails, that all wounds will be healed and hearts restored, that the glory and joy and feast of eternity will be so overwhelming that it will, as I gratefully heard a pastor say long ago, make all these horrific days and times and trials and heartbreaks seem like no more than one bad night in a cheap hotel.

But … there remains today. And tomorrow. More CNN Days to come. Such is the forecast in a fallen world. What can I do?

Maybe keep suiting up? Run the next play? If a Christmastime manger in a tiny town in the dead of winter is significant, then you must be. I must be.

"I am only one, but I am one,” said Edward Everett Hale, the flawed but prolific clergyman of the 19th century. “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do."  

It sounds corny, but Charles Dickens and his one-man chain gang, Jacob Marley, had a point.

“Mankind was my business,” Marley says from the grave to Scrooge. “The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”

Mankind in our business. In the manger is our help and our hope that baby steps, even ours, add up.