It's interesting to think that in South Dakota on Pine Ridge Reservation, the Lakota are encouraged by the birth of a white buffalo calf in Connecticut - because it may signal the return of their founding Spirit, the White Buffalo Calf Woman.
And in Judaism, the Jews are searching for the perfect red calf, without spot or blemish which will signal the arrival of Messiah. In Islam, the Muslims are looking forward to the arrival of the Twelfth Imam; some Muslims believe he has arrived already. The Dali Lama's Tibetan people have begun looking around for the next incarnation of their spiritual leader, hoping his arrival will mean the end of Chinese destruction of their culture. The Mayan Calendar predicts something apocalyptic in 2012. I don't know about any other cultures, but wonder if they, too, have such a prediction/hope/longing.
And, of course, Christians continue to look forward to the return of Jesus the Christ as He promised. In all these cultures and religions, the theme is practically the same: Hope. Hope that sometime, someone, somewhere who is above and beyond our human abilities, will come and set the world right for eternity.
During this Christian season of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, that hope becomes a focus of worship and prayer. From the prophets, through the time of Jesus, and on through letters and predictions of a future King of heaven and earth, the Christian focus moves from the past to the present and through the future. The beginning is the word of prophecy which Christians read as talking about the arrival of God's anointed Son. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking to Israel in exile talks about the time when Israel will live under a rule of justice and peace, and people will say to each other: "Our God has set things right for us." (The Message version)
Christians see the arrival of the infant Jesus to a family of faithful Jews in Bethlehem as a fulfillment of the prophecies, and the beginning of a new world order. They call the time we live in since Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, the in-between time; the already/not yet time. The new year, the new beginning of the Christian church year, is Advent, the preparation time in the church to greet once again the birth of a child, the song of angels, the promise of God's goodwill toward men and women everywhere. Advent culminates in Christmas, with the birth of a King in a stable in Bethlehem. And then after the twelve days of Christmas, the church celebrates Epiphany; the day that kings from the East came to pay homage to a child with extraordinary, expensive gifts; the day that presages the inclusion of Jew and Gentile, stranger and friend into the wonder of the grace of God.
So we give each other gifts in Thanksgiving for the great gift the world received on that Silent Night. Many people recognize that this huge event was a very small happening in the world; that not many people noticed. And yet, that small event of a stable birth changed things for people over the centuries in unexpected ways.
That infant Jesus grew into a teacher and prophet with the power of God on Him, and predicted for us all the day when the terrors of the world would be capped by His return in glorious wonder, and He told us, when the terrors of the world confound everyone: Stand up on your feet! Lift up your Heads. Help is on the way." (The Message version)
Our human longings and yearnings for a life of justice and peace are still in the in-between times. The arrival for Christians of an infant at Christmas time is a reminder that the promise of such a world is alive and well and living in hearts and minds in every place. The gifts we give are a joyous celebration of the gift giving that starts with God. And the promises of the prophets that were fulfilled give us hope that the promises of God in Jesus will also, in God's good time, be fulfilled, too.
So I say to all of you during this season of Advent, this season of hope: Stand up. Lift up your Heads. Help is on the way. God will, in God's good time, set things right for us.
The Rev. Marcia Dorey is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Shaftsbury.