Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith–to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
The words in this short Scripture pretty much say everything. When it is all said and done, when there is nothing else left, when you don’t know where to step next, there is God. There is the God who came and comes and will come over and over again. This is the God of mystery and revelation, the God of strength and gentleness, the God of what will come and what is. Some think that it might be possible that these words that come at the end of Paul’s great treatise known as The Letter to the Romans were sort of attached later as a doxology. It is indeed a statement of response, a doxology acknowledging what God has done and what God is doing. It is true. The Incarnation of God, the Coming of Jesus Christ, invokes our response, elicits something from us in response to God or, really, it would be meaningless. As the words say, the response is our faith. God comes not as an answer to generations upon generations of want and need; God comes as a question, an openness, to which we are asked to respond. God comes and invites us into this mystery, to walk where we haven’t dared walk before and to know what we wouldn’t let ourselves know before. The whole of the Gospel–the proclaimed Coming of Christ, Jesus’ birth, ministry, life, death, and resurrection–are made full by our response. If that were not the case, the Gospel would not have continued to write itself into people’s lives.
In 1513, Fra Giovanni Giacondo, a Franciscan Friar, wrote a letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve. Here are the incredible words:
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.
Take heaven! Take peace! Take joy! It is what the words from Romans were saying. God came and comes but God does not desire to dance alone. The fulfillment of God’s promise, the culmination of God’s Vision of what Creation will be lies in us. It lies in our response. It lies in our faithful response. Its meaning and its purpose come when we claim it for ourselves. It lies in our stepping up and taking all of the gifts that God offers. We must take heaven. We must take peace. We must take joy. Perhaps it means that we have to lay down the things we are holding. Perhaps it means that we have to make room. Always it means that we respond by saying “yes” to God. God comes toward us with arms outstretched, inviting us to dance. God does not desire to force us into mindless obedience; God does not pick us up and carry us away to places that we do not want to go; God desires that we respond with arms outstretched and, even when our steps are faltering and filled with doubt and fear, we dance as one who has taken and embraced joy, one who has taken God into one’s life. Take heaven! Take peace! Take joy!
Faith can be described only as a movement of flight, flight away from myself and toward the great possibilities of God. (Helmut Thielicke)
FOR TODAY: Put down what you are holding. Take heaven. Take peace. Take joy. Breathe them in and dance.
Grace and Peace,