Last Saturday afternoon, while walking
downtown among crowds of tourists and Christmas shoppers, I saw and heard:

An older couple
fussing with each other about what to do next. They were coming out of Mast
General Store. He had a huge bag in each hand.  She pointed to the stores on Biltmore Avenue
they’d not yet been in, and made it clear to him that she intended to keep
shopping.  He plainly said that he wanted
to get the car and go home. Later, I saw him sitting by himself on a bench in
Pack Square, bags nestled around him. 

A little girl,
maybe two years old, dissolve into tears. 
She was dressed like a princess and riding in a fancy stroller more
expensive than my first car.  She had thrown
her cupcake on the sidewalk, because it had white icing instead of chocolate. Her
father, beside the stroller, said some things that a princess shouldn’t hear.
Pushing the stroller was the princess’ mother; she wore a Christmas sweater and
a forced smile.  She had the weary look
of someone whose fantasy of a perfect family day had just evaporated. Ironically
(you can’t make these things up), a street musician, squeakily playing a
saxophone, was just finishing “Silent Night”: “Sleep in heavenly peace.”

It’s also ironic that, during this season, we
sing about peace while storm-clouds of violence and fear darken the horizon.  War.  A
billion people in abject poverty.
Inner city schools, where despair has
overtaken both students and educators. Racism, sexism, and

In the face of such overwhelming problems, I feel
paralyzed. They’re too big for me to do anything about.

But, the problems are not too big for Jesus,
and he isn’t powerless to change them. He announced and enacted a peaceable
kingdom in the face of imperial violence and oppression. He called for mercy in
a land governed by merciless tyrants. He was executed by a conspiracy of elite
religious and political powerbrokers. 

Then, God raised Jesus from the dead, a
declaration that life is stronger than the death and love is mightier than
fear. Through Jesus, God has unleashed resurrection power in the world, and God
is at work for freedom, wholeness, and peace.

The work we do for the sake of justice and
mercy, however modest, becomes part of God’s restless determination to heal us
and the world.  It expresses and intensifies
the resurrecting, recreating, and redeeming power of God. Somehow (I don’t know
how), God gathers and uses our prayers and our deeds: nothing born of love is
ever lost. That’s the good news: Hope endures. Peace triumphs. Love wins. 

It’s the gospel for the great problems of our
world and for our everyday and ordinary lives, lives in which harmony
disappears when a toddler throws her cupcake on the ground and conflict arises
between a tired husband and a shop-till-you drop wife. It’s the gospel for all
of us who live in a whirlwind of busyness and anxiety.

A few years ago, as I ran breathlessly from
one thing to another, a friend asked: “Do you think Jesus wants you to live the
way you’re living?” The question made me angry, but it also made its way to my
heart. I said, in a moment of realization I keep coming back to: “No. Jesus is
not my problem.  My problem is the relentless
demands I’ve placed on myself and the endless expectations of others.”

After all, Jesus said: “Come to me, all you
that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take
my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and
you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What Jesus wants from us is what he wants for
us: a way of life that is graceful, grateful, hopeful, and peaceful.