Thursday, December 26, 2013

Feast of Saint Stephen: Already Here but Not Yet

"Stephen called out 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’" – Acts 7:59

The Christmas holidays can be a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I experience jubilant joy and cheerful spirit with people. On the other, I also go through difficult moments of loneliness, loss, and sadness. My perfectionistic tendencies don’t take a vacation but plays peek-a-boo. I don't seem to be alone in this predicament. The holidays allows many of us to be in touch with the loss of recently deceased loved ones, the pain of family members seriously sick, the weight of financial worries, the separation of close relationships and the awkwardness of strained ones. While we celebrate God already-with-us, we also become more aware that God seems not-yet-with-us. Violence is escalating in South Sudan, persecution of Christians persists in Egypt, and the conflict in Syria has only slightly improved since last Christmas. Peace with ourselves and peace with others remain elusive.

The readings this week point to this already-here but not-yet coming of God. In two days, we celebrate the feast of innocent children massacred because Herod wanted to kill the infant Jesus. Today, we remember Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The promise in the crib and the sacrifice on the cross closely intertwine. God in Jesus came as a baby born in a feeding trough and died as a criminal on the cross. Throughout Christ’s life, God loves consistently despite the costs. God is not ashamed of human lowliness or messiness, she entered into it. Moreover, God often comes as an unexpected, uninvited, often unrecognized guest. Christian hope lies not in something, not in some belief or idea, but in Someone. In someone who often surprises us, entering our brokenness, magnifying our joy, desiring to stay, whispering peace, “I am here.”

We live in this tension, in the already but not-yet. It may not be easy living in suspense. Like Stephen, can seek to be receptive and open in the midst of incompleteness. Peace is dawning, already in-breaking.

Unexpected One, receive my spirit, whatever I may be experiencing.  May I receive your surprising visit today, in whatever shape or form.

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