As Christmas draws near, I am still very troubled by an old pair of black shoes I saw recently on the street.
I know that the lights, music, trees and Christmas Spirit should help me forget them, but I can’t.
It was just within the last week, and not very late at night, when the owner of these black shoes was kidnapped, not a quarter mile from our hospital gate.
All that was left was a battered motorcycle, and the empty shoes, speaking eloquently of the absence of their owner.
The shoes were no longer near the motorcycle. They were carrying feet running from harm. They ran as far as they could before being overtaken, only about 50 feet from the motorcycle, old worn shoes with weathered laces that did not stay in place during the struggle to be free.
I try to imagine the many ways this might have happened, and I try not to imagine the terrible conclusion.
Oddly enough, I tend to scenarios that paint thekidnapped person as an aggressor, for example a thief. I seem to feel calmer if I imagine that somehow he (not she, judging by the shoes) provoked what happened. It is more reassuring to think wickedness is not random.
What is going on in our world? It seems like violence and destructive hatred are universal.
And what is wrong with me, that I feel somehow safer by blaming a kidnapped person for their fate?
At Christmas, it just may be worth thinking about this: what is wrong with the world is my own deep tendency to be wrong. (Yours too, so read on.)
The Bible teaches us that we were kidnapped, taken away from God, by the trickery of the Evil One, and the irresistible pride of Adam and Eve.
Now, like these empty black shoes, only their footprints are what are left of Adam and Eve in the gardens of paradise, like relics that speak of once intimate walks with God.
Ever since, the distance between us and God has become the distance between us and every person, and finally the estrangement from ourselves. We are all strangers outside of paradise.
As strangers, we are stuck with the enduring problems of suspicion, prejudice, exploitation, inequality, un-forgiveness, and war.
We also wind up bearing the enduring burdens of addiction, depression, self-harm, disorientation, and aggression. Many people feel lost, and without value or purpose.
While there is a famous saying that “fools rush in where angels dare to tread,” this doesn’t mean you should not take on the problems of life, but rather it is advice as to how not to do it. Rushing in.
This saying shows us the wisdom of Christmas, shown in the way God came to us, to ransom us from the Evil One (ransom is the very language we use in theology), to redeem us (“redeemer” literally meaning “the one who buys you back”).
Christian tradition teaches that Jesus (whose name means “God saves”) came to us in the dark, and in the middle of no-where. This subtle entrance into our lives was humble, and marked by vulnerability, as shown in the birth in a manger, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight into Egypt.
The tradition teaches that Jesus grew slowly, in wisdom and grace, and that there were many quiet years of maturing, preparation and initiation before he took on the impossible task of buying us back for God.
We call this Incarnation, the taking on of our flesh, the becoming a real part of our blood, our bones, our joys and sorrows, our history and our destiny.
There are those who claim that Christmas is now itself kidnapped, a victim of a cultural war, with increasing disappearance of every public symbol of Christmas.
For all those who look for the meaning of Christmas beyond a Christmas tree on a coffee cup, there is no possible war that could ever win out against the hopeful message of Christmas. And it is a simple message.
God is with us, at every turn of our life, in every joy and sorrow, in every battle between good and evil. And because he is with us, the final victory is guaranteed.
By living as He lived, and imitating His goodness, by joining Him in paying the price required to save those “in darkness and the shadow of death”, we join his movement for salvation.
We must resist everything that is wrong within us and wrong around us, replacing our addictions with freedom, our depressions with longing for truth and justice, our harmful tendencies with life-giving acts. We must narrow the distances between us by building bridges instead of walls, replacing prejudice with respect, and war with peace.
With “God with us”, in our blood and in our covenants, we can topple mountains of pride, fill in valleys of emptiness, and fill all empty shoes with the feet of their captive owners. It is a daunting, but not impossible, task.
We carry it out slowly and steadily, with every growing wisdom and grace, at midnight and in unknown places. We care for the weakest, strengthen the sick, share food with the hungry. We bind the wounds of the injured and battle-worn, clothe the naked, guide children out of ignorance with the light of learning. We bring hope to the forlorn, and bury the dead with respect and in the hope of eternity.
And best of all, we get to do it with good people like you.
Thanks for your ongoing support of our work in Haiti, entrusted to St Luke, physician and evangelist, teacher and friend of God. We depend enormously on your support and we thank you for it, and thank God for you
Let’s continue to work to eliminate distance, and strengthen the ties that bind, and to do so with the joy and hope of Christmas.
And of course, loudly and publicly,
Merry Christmas to you and your families!
Fr Rick Frechette CP
Port au Prince, Haiti
First Sunday of Advent, 2015