I’ve struggled with a reflections this week, especially as the controversies surrounding sexual misconduct have swirled in our culture. I’m not a victim, and it seems a bit disingenuous to imagine I have something to say, when I really do not deeply understand the hurt and pain of sexual misconduct. Still, it is around us, and it is evil. So as I explore, please “cut me some slack.” I am trying!
I took a look, and almost exactly a year ago (368 days to be precise), I wrote a reflections that spoke of my not being ready for Christmas, yet I also pondered that perhaps that is what Christmas is about – coming in the midst of lives that are not ready.
So, how about this year? Ready?
Better, I suppose, but really, how much better can we be? For the last month or so it seems that all we have heard about is sexual misconduct, from entertainers and industry heavies, to athletes and business leaders, to politicians of both parties. Even as I write this we are digesting the results of the special Senate election in Alabama, dominated by allegations of sexual misconduct, this time involving underage girls.
Of course, the accusations, and in a number of cases, the admission of guilt, are deeply troubling. It is (or it sure ought to be) self-evident that these acts, this behavior, is unacceptable to anyone. Period. There should be no need for discussion or debate. This kind of stuff is simply wrong, with no justification, and no exception.
So, there you go. Merry Christmas!
But maybe there is something here that connects with Christmas, and perhaps there is a deeper – and broader – issue at stake. No, I don’t mean that there is something more than sexual misconduct to consider – rather, I mean that the sexual misconduct hits something even more profound than what might immediately come to mind.
To do that let’s turn to Scripture…and let’s start at the beginning. In Genesis.
So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
Here we are, at the conclusion of the creation story. All is done, all has been prepared, and now God acts to bring life to humanity. But notice first, that God creates them, that is “man and woman,” in God’s own image.
Newsflash – God is NOT a guy! God creates men and women in the image of God.
But more than that, God creates humanity, men and women, in God’s own image. That is to say, humanity – men and women – you and I – bear something of God’s presence in ourselves. We are created as unique creatures, but we share something in common – we share something divine. We share God’s image.
Mystical, mysterious, perhaps even a bit perplexing, but there it is – we share something we bear – and that is a precious gift of God.
It is that gift which challenges us so deeply in the midst of the current wave of sexual misconduct revelations. Misconduct against another human being robs that person of God given dignity. These acts do violence against them, against God’s image in them, and against God too!
Those who have stepped forward, and many. many others in our world who have yet to speak, are not mere victims (though they are that). They are children of God, created in God’s image, who have been violated. And that is why there can be no tolerance for behavior like this – it strikes at the very heart of who and what people are, and at the very gift of God in their lives.
But not just the victims of sexual misconduct. All those who have been treated as less than the image of God. Victims of bullying, those attacked and persecuted because of their race, religious belief, or sexual orientation, or just those who think differently than others.
And that brings us to Christmas. We were created in God’s image – that’s the message of Genesis. But our sinfulness, our brokenness, has pushed aside that image, and worked on our own image. Our own image, centered in ourselves.
In the fullness of time, therefore, God chose to act. Beginning with the child in the manger, beginning with Christmas, God acted to restore God’s image in humankind. This time, however, God didn’t create – God “re-created” through the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus. God acts to restore our hope, and renew us in God’s own image. This image is the image of sacrifice, of God’s gift of life through the death of Jesus. It is an image of forgiveness and redemption.
But not an image of “don’t sweat it, it’s OK, you’re off the hook.” The image of the cross and the empty tomb frees us to be bold, to step forward to make a difference in the world, and especially in the lives of those who have been violated. The image sends us forth to change the world in the name of Jesus!
So…for those who have experienced the violation, especially of sexual misconduct, speak up – know that it will be difficult, but know that you are not alone. God is with you – and I need to be there too – standing by your side!
For those who have not experienced violation (that’s me), listen, listen carefully, and take the stand with those who have endured the deep and cutting pain of violation.
And for those who have done what should never have been done, who have recently, or once upon a time, in whatever way it happened, violated the image of God in another person, this too is your moment. Be really bold – step forward, own up to what you have done, acknowledge your failings. But as you do that, know that the image is yours too – and in that image of the cross and empty tomb, you are forgiven and redeemed, but even more than that you are freed to live differently.
And for all of us, in the midst of the dampened holiday season, remember what I said last year –
Christmas doesn’t happen because you and I make it happen. It happens in spite of us. It happens because it is more than the story of Jesus – Christmas, in a very mystical way, is Jesus – Christmas is Jesus in our world, at work in our lives, and that is not about you and me – it’s about Jesus!
So as the days draw closer, get ready. Get the stuff done that needs to be done, and be open to the gift of the child. But most of all let go of Christmas and let Christ make it happen.
The Christ of healing, wholeness, redemption, and renewal. The Christ who changes us, so we can change the world!