I have always been a fan of Pogo, that cartoon from years back that chronicled the misadventures of a bunch of hillbilly swamp creatures and their search for meaning in life.
In one memorable and oft-quoted strip, the main character of the cartoon, Pogo himself, talks about meeting "the enemy" only to find out that "they is us." I think, if I remember it correctly, that the issue centered around environmentalism and littering. Complaining about people despoiling the environment, he turns around and finds that he and his friends are the worst offenders.
It is easy to blame others for a multitude of sins. We "them" those folks in order to dehumanize, debase or otherwise discount our neighbors in order to feel better about ourselves, or more well-defended in our own domains, or what have you. Only when we find out that "they is us" that we become more fully human. We realize that the boundaries that separate us from our fellow humans is an academic one.
I have had a challenging advent in that I have been continually challenged in the last nine months to see life as NOT an us/them dichotomy, all the while struggling to embrace a new parish--a new culture--that I have never really been part of. That kind of belonging only comes with time and patience. Really. No matter the resonance, the appeal, the grace that leads people together into community, we only really find communion over time.
Imagine, then, the experience of Christmas in the truest sense of the word. In the celebration of the feast of the Incarnation/Nativity of Jesus as Son of Man, messiah, we get the supreme and ultimate chance to put to rest that final issue of us/them that resides in the difference between human and divine. The barrier is surmounted in the birth of Mary's first born son. Wrapped in swaddling clothes is all of human, all of divine in one sweet package. All that is the worst in us is owned fully by God. All that is best in God is given to us. And vice versa.
You would think that would be seen as true grace. Given the chance to draw near into the grace of the divine, we worry, wander and ponder at a distance. Even when the heavenly choirs holler out God's praise, we shrink back...Sure, just a little bit, bit we shrink back all the same.
Because what is at stake is the reality that we might just lose ourselves in eternity. And as much as being caught up in God's love excites us, we worry that it just might mean our annihilation. Just like the ancients despaired and feared their eyes would melt and their hearts would burst in their chests when treated to a taste of God's divine Presence, we too hesitate when God invites us into the manger for a chance to witness The Birth.
Still, there is always hope. What I love about the last few weeks in my personal walk as rector and priest to this place is the same thing I love about Christmas. Like the true experience of the incarnation, we are inexorably drawn to community and communion with each other, as we are with Christ. One day, we wake up and realize that we are saved. One day, I woke up and realized that "we is us."
Overall, this is a great place from which to celebrate Church this last week of Advent. Like Christ, I think we are finally going to arrive; and like Christ, I think we are going to continue to arrive together for quite a long time.