For the last year, there’s been a calendar on my bedroom wall which I’ve adored. Each month features an “unlikely friendship” between two animals – a dog and cat, a tiger and pig, or a cat and mouse. Often they are natural enemies but somehow life has brought them together, and they are bonded despite their differences.
I bought it because it’s an extremely cute calendar, but also because Lyle and I are unlikely friends. We are opposite in many ways, but a common faith and love has brought us together despite all the odds.
Somehow, every time I look at each month’s picture, my heart melts just a little. Whatever is conflicted inside me remembers that a new day is coming and that reconciliation, not division, will be the last word.
There’s a scripture verse that expresses what my calendar is all about, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” (Isaiah 11:6) As our church was preparing for the second Sunday of Advent, I realized that the calendar fits the hope of Advent perfectly.
The verse was announcing a time when harmony will reign supreme, and when places of enmity will become places of friendship. Looking at all the war and conflict in the world and at our doorsteps, it seems ridiculously impossible. Isn’t the way of the world all about predator and prey? The strong overpowering the weak and vulnerable? Yet the prophet was saying the time was coming when the natural order will be turned upside down. Jesus turned things upside down when he became a king who kept his attention on the sick, the marginalized and the broken people.
Our friends Arthur and Debbie invited our house church to celebrate Hanukkah with them last Saturday. Arthur has been coming to our Wednesday night Bible studies for over 2 years and we have all enjoyed his friendship immensely. He is curious about Christianity, and as he’s gone through so many studies together with us, I’m beginning to suspect that the effect for him has been to deepen his own Jewish faith. He has helped us deepen our own faith as well, and as our friendship grows, we realize how little our “differences” matter.
This year we decided to give his family an “invisible gift” of a song. We learned the Hebrew prayer and the 3-part harmony and sang it for the circle of people gathered around the menorah last Saturday. It was one of those moments in life I will always remember. “Life doesn’t get richer than this,” I thought as the beautiful harmonies and strange but wonderful words filled the room.
The experience of practicing the song during the week was a gift to me, and steadied my heart which is so prone to doubt and fears. Just like Jesus came to prove, the lion of my fears began to lie down with the lamb of peace as we practiced during the week. Time stopped and the words seemed to come to life as we sang. Translated, the words said,
“You’ve kept and sustained us in this season and time,
Blessed are You Adonai, Who makes the soul of the world shine.”
I couldn’t stop humming it to myself all week, and it had a calming effect on me. Like the pictures in my calendar which melt my heart, the song helped keep my sights on hope amid darkness.
Sometimes we get so used to our individual and collective monkey minds that we begin to think it’s normal. We get used to an outlook tinged with cynicism. It’s become normal to hear of murder rates in the North End. Of the homeless who fill up the shelters. But like Bruce Cockburn sings, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” At our Advent service yesterday, we were reminded that Jesus came to bring us a “new normal”. A world that is “detoxified”, where every form of hurt and fear has been overcome. Like me looking at my calendar, all our hearts melted again when we saw ourselves the way God sees us, and remembered this unlikely friendship God invites us to.
Often it’s hard to truly see this “new normal”. Scripture says we see this new world through glasses that are foggy and dark, but that we are to trust that it is much more true than our fears tell us. I’m reminded of this new world when I see pictures of predators inexplicably befriending prey.
And when I sang words of faith with my friends around the lights of the menorah, the world Jesus brought felt so close. Like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.