The “Why?” Question

The Rev. Bradford Ayers Rundlett

Isaiah 9:2-7
Hymn 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

The phone rang. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon on a sweltering summer day in Spartanburg, South Carolina; I was in the Church office; there was no AC. The person on the other end of telephone was female; she asked to speak to Father Rundlett. I could tell right away she didn’t know me. “This is Brad” I countered, which she counter countered. I was not going to win, so I gave up. She said her name was something I’ve long forgotten – it was thirty-three years ago – and then announced that she was with the Episcopal Church International Mission Committee, and she wanted to thank me for offering to be the Chaplain on the next medical mission to Haiti.

Something inside of me snapped; “What?” My brain stalled while she chattered on about something I never heard because I most certainly did not volunteer for such a thing, nor would I, being Ordained only one year, being the single parent of my four year old son, and knowing that Haiti was ruled by a dictator who . . . well, I won’t go into all that; it is Christmas Eve after all.

“No!” I said with more force than I intended. “I did not sign up to go to Haiti.” . . . and a heavy silence fell upon us. I held the phone not knowing if she was “still on the other end” as we used to say. Solar flares ceased to erupt, planets stopped revolving, moons froze in place; linear time shattered and fell to the ground like pieces of broken glass.

I was not going to give in this time.

Then out of the void a tiny, trembling voice whimpered, “Well, I guess we’ll have to cancel the mission because we can’t go without a Priest and you’re the only one who signed up.”

The sun exploded! Planets collided! Moons ricocheted like pool balls after a hard break! And time became a twisted, knotted length of rope! Southern Women! With a coy smile and that look they master by the age of three they can see right down to a man’s soul. We men folk don’t stand a chance. She nailed me before I ever answered the phone. How do you say “No” to someone who is trying to help the poorest people on the planet?

Several things went through my “jello head.” But what really got me was why would anyone in their right mind want to send a still wet behind the ears, single parent of a young child, to a dangerous country, governed by a pathological tyrant, on a medical mission, to eight million starving people?

Of course I went – and I still go. Members of this amazing Christian community go to Haiti, to the Lakota people in Pine Ridge South Dakota, to the residents of Dungannon in Scott County Virginia, and we welcome our Northern Virginia neighbors who need help.

Why? Because we are the Church. We are the heart and hands of Christ. We go and do what we believe God wants, with no rational support; just the promise that Jesus Christ will be with us until the Kingdom comes.

But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know why God runs the world in a way that is so contrary to what we believe is effective, right, and good.

The “Why?” question comes up just about every day of my life, and had for as long as I can remember.  In fact I’ve got a big “Why?” question about tonight. And it started

About three thousand years ago a prophet named Isaiah said some rather amazing things: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” “The rod of your oppressor has been broken.” And here’s where I get jello-brain again “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. Authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace . . . [and] There will be endless peace” (the people who report the news seem to have missed that). This God baby “will establish and uphold justice; he will make everything right forevermore.”

“Why” just multiplied into “How?” and “When?”

I don’t see any evidence of a dominant wave of justice, peace, or joy. Do you?

Things are not right in Haiti, in Pine Ridge or any of the five hundred reservations in this country, in Appalachia, or even here in Fairfax County!

God sent a baby to heal this world. And about eight hundred years after Isaiah proclaimed that was going to happen, Luke recorded that this “Good News of great joy is for all people” and it began in Bethlehem.  A tiny, helpless baby boy was born to a young mother who took shelter in a cave. The child appeared to be like every other child born on this war weary planet . . . EXCEPT! Luke insisted that this child is “the Messiah,” the Christ, the Son of God, God Incarnate; the Savior of the world.

A child from a no good place like Nazareth is going to save the world and establish The Kingdom of God? That requires a lot more strategy and muscle than anyone has ever dreamed of!

So, give us a warrior king like David. Give us someone with the wisdom of Solomon. Give us superior weapons. Give us an army of angels! With that we can turn things around. We’ll make things right! We’ll establish justice! We’ll create peace! We’ll build The Kingdom of God! Of course some people will resist, and that’s unfortunate but we have to draw the line somewhere.

Why send a child into such a terrible mess? Why wait for this child to grow up; even if he becomes a great leader we’re talking about this child having the authority to change the entire world! No individual can do that! Can they?

We’ve tried force, good intelligence, sophisticated equipment, more technology, more soldiers, more weapons, sanctions . . . have you ever known things to go our way when we do things our way?

I have seen some improvement in Haiti in thirty-two years. But as far as I can tell this world is still in pretty bad shape. Consider South Sudan, North Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Pakistan – and that’s just the top ten. Women and children are at risk everywhere, even here in Fairfax County.

When will that prophetic justice, that everlasting Good News, that everything made right forever actually begin?

Are we looking for explanations in the wrong direction? In the wrong shape, size, and color?

Is this Christmas any different, any better, because that child was born, because he was who he was and did what he did?

I believe it is.

Have you noticed, God typically does things in a different sort of way? We think superior knowledge and greater force; God thinks weakness. We think about “winning;” God thinks “surrender.” We think “good and bad;” God thinks “we are all sisters and brothers in Christ.” We think “some make it and some don’t;” “God thinks all have sinned but Christ died “once and for all.”’

Which doesn’t actually resolve that bothersome question “Why?”

The only answer I have ever heard that makes any sense at all is “because God loves us.”

It’s Christmas Eve. We celebrate God Almighty becoming a human infant, a human infant becoming – through his death and resurrection – the Savior of the world. We trust, we hope and pray that his Holy Spirit lives in us. We offer ourselves to be his heart and hands in this world. We discover joy in giving and grace in the generosity of the poor. We believe that the Peace of God begins here [hand over heart], the love of God that surpasses all understanding is the most powerful force in the universe, and this world as God wants it to be is not about wrapped gifts under the tree, it’s about why Jesus was born in this world, died on a cross, rose from death, ascended into Heaven, the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us, and the good we can do with the love of God.

To change the world we have to change human hearts. I hope and pray this Christmas you find your heart changed, your spirit brighter, your thoughts more  about giving than getting. I hope with all my heart that you receive the gift of love and generosity overflowing.

Merry Christmas.