The Universe - Friendly or Hostile?

(Note - this New Year's reflection is drawn from our Christmas Eve theme along with some images of that wonderful night at VEV. Warning: "shameless grandparents advisory.") 

The Nativity provides the answer to one question for which the great scientist, Albert Einstein, could never find the answer. Obviously overcome by the sheer magnitude and vast reaches of the universe, he asked, “Is the universe friendly?” Left all to ourselves, he saw the universe as a frightening, lonely, and even cruel place.

If we were to hear news of extraterrestrial life coming to planet earth, our first questions would be, “Are they hostile or friendly?”  “Are their intentions for us for good or for harm?” The Nativity tells the Story of one time that planet earth was indeed visited by an "extraterrestrial," an outsider - the Creator himself! Was it a friendly visit?

The Creator knows our tendency to fear what we do not know or understand. Fear assumes that whatever is different than us – not known or understood – must be hostile. Like in the TV series, “Lost,” fear creates “the others,” even if just in our own minds. Fear creates violence, in attitude, word, and deed.  It labels people, marginalizes them, and engenders a sense of “us and them.”

The Creator chose to come to us in a way that would dissolve our fears and replace them with love. Our kids at VEV love to sing the Celtic carol, “Love Came Down at Christmas,” and indeed, that is what happened. The Creator came down to us in the form of Love - in the most disarming, non-threatening way imaginable. Love came in vulnerability. Love came as a helpless baby, dependent on the body of his teenage mother. Thirty-three years later, Love died the same way he was born – weak, vulnerable, surrounded by scandal and misunderstanding, even though he could have chosen otherwise. Even in the face of hostility and violence, he refused to become defensive, intimidating or threatening in any way. He wanted us to know that love is the most powerful force in the universe and that we don’t need to curse the darkness – we only need to turn the light on.  

The Parable of Smudge

Whenever our neighbours go away on a holiday, they ask me to take care of their cat, “Smudge.” Their main concern is that I feed her daily and give her a friendly pet. Smudge, even though an animal, needs love. The whole universe is made for love. When that does not occur, things go wrong. That helps us answer Einstein’s question and also the question, “If the universe is friendly, why does it seem so messed up?”  

Smudge has some issues. Before our neighbours adopted Smudge, she must have experienced some trauma. Somehow, she didn’t receive the love and affection she was created for. When I pet Smudge, she seems fine for a few minutes, purring nicely, then all of a sudden she will exhibit hostility and even attack my hand. This is what fear does. Fear assumes that that friendly hand that has only good intentions for you is hostile. I have to persist gently (with some risk!) to reach out to her, in the confidence that love will overcome her fear. Slowly things are getting better, and so are my scratch marks! 

Perfect love casts out all fear. Love assumes that, because the Creator is friendly, the universe is friendly and chooses not to fear. This does not mean that love is naïve, or that love is without risk and doesn’t require discernment. Neither does it mean that love is without cost. Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep among wolves.” Nevertheless, he still sends us. In spite of the risks, love still goes where it is sent. Love still reaches out.

As we learned in our recent “Art of Neighbouring” series, major cities across North America have discovered that the most effective way to address urban social problems like drugs, crime, prostitution, and gangs was for people to be good neighbours to one another. Yup, just do what Jesus said…and love your neighbour, whether that neighbour is Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Asian, African, Hispanic, First Nations, European, young, old, gay, straight - and this will accomplish more than all the government money can come up with. 

Fear is Not An Option

2015 was a year where the temptations to fear and create more divisions and barriers were rampant. Propaganda and paranoia based on half-truths seemed to rule the media including social media – whether it was over all the terrorist attacks, a new government, the Syrian refugees, the financial and housing markets, or the recent minor earthquake we had. As we head into 2016, the temptation to fear will always be lurking, and indeed, I'm sure new threats will emerge. Yet, for disciples of Jesus, fear is not an option. Have you ever noticed how often "don't be afraid" is mentioned in the birth narratives - to Zechariah, to Mary, to the shepherds...? This is not by chance. Fear is the root cause of our toxic relating. As has often said, the command to “not fear” is the most frequent command in all of Scripture. In fact, we are told this 365 times, one for every day of the year.

Friends, when we are confronted by the sheer terror and intimidation of the dark side, turn on the light. Choose the way of love. Light is greater than darkness. Love is greater than hate. Perfect love casts out all fear. Love is the greatest power in the universe. In fact, Love has a name: Jesus. Immanuel – God With Us - not just at Christmas, but every day of the year. 

Have a happy and blessed New Year!