'Straw by straw'
Written by Donna Schaper
December 2006 - January 2007
January 1, 2007

New York still births Christmas hope, five years later

On September 11, 2001, New York City may have taken the hit, but the whole country took the hurt.

Now, with Iraq and its casualties and its bills, with no gels on the airplanes, with a politically manipulated national epidemic of fear, fear and more fear, these things cost everyone and everywhere, not just New Yorkers.

Some aspects of New York are actually better than before we became internationally famous "victims." Real estate and college admissions are up. Spirits have improved. And the rest of the nation no longer thinks it has the right to make fun of our accents or our meanness. We have the silver lining; the nation is stuck with the cloud.

Do things really get better if we win the victim race?

At Christmas, I wonder: does Jesus get the candles and the carols because he was a global innocent or a global victim?

One of my favorite Christmas exercises with children is to build a manger, straw by straw. Likewise, adults can also play the game. We can imagine the slow coming of the Messiah as straw upon straw. We can take our time getting to the great Christmas message of "Fear Not." That message means ever so much more now than it did before the towers fell.

"World" and "Trade" and "Center" tried to collapse, but the human spirit survived. Pearls in the safe deposit box at the Chase bank combusted and turned to dust, so heated was the fire, but human treasure remained.

These catastrophes became evidence for the size of the human spirit - and became this side of the equation that permits us to fear not. Victimized, we did not become victims.

The other side is that manger-born boy.

What was God thinking about, sending a child to save an old world? Just how foolish can divinity get! That very foolishness is the source of the Messianic hope some of us maintain in Jesus: Small manages large, heaven mixes it up with earth, divinity sneaks in on humanity, eternity thickens time; innocence amuses evil. All these incarnations flesh-out the spirit in Jesus.

Crucified, Jesus did not die. The small baby had a large victory over victimhood. Encarnacion: God is in the meat and heat of it.

In the case of September 11, incarnation spirited the flesh of humanity, just as Spirit took on flesh. We found that we could go on. For some of us that was news. For others - the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree crowd, the cabbies, the Rockette-ticket buyers and the people who can't afford those tickets, the surviving families of police and firefighters, the ordinary people - small beating large is not news at all. It's just another straw in the manger of hope.

Ordinary people think they are the bed - even the body - of Jesus. That was God's foolish idea in the first place, to trick us into imagining that our matter mattered.

So instead of 9-11 being the last straw, or the straw that breaks the camel's back, it is another piece of the manager, that bed and body that takes the good with the bad and the bad with the good - and persists.

Sure, there are some flaws in the straw. The terrorists haven't stopped just because we fear them not. But, and nevertheless, the light still shines in the darkness.

And guess what? The darkness has not overcome it.

We take God's spirit and God takes our flesh and together we incarnate hope in the middle of fear, straw by straw.

The Rev. Donna Schaper is the senior minister of Judson Memorial Church (UCC/American Baptist) in New York City and author of 28 books including the forthcoming, "Living Well and Doing Good." 

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