start the investigation!
“Start the investigation!”
I sing those words a lot. But they don’t sound quite the way they used to.
They are part of the chorus of a song that I wrote almost a decade ago:
We are detectives of divinity, we’re looking all around
for signs of God’s activity, wherever they are found
God is up to something, of that you can be sure
so start the investigation! The clues are everywhere…
In the past several years, I have found myself doing more and more engagements in the USA. This past year, 63 out of the 118 sessions on my itinerary – concerts, Bible study sessions, retreats, worship services – were south of the Canada/US border. More often than not, given the headlines of that particular week or day, the phrase “start the investigation!” hangs in the air with a particular kind of poignancy.
The air is thick with investigations on both sides of the border – multiple investigations into Donald Trump; police brutality and systemic racism; missing and murdered indigenous women; sexual abuse within the church; immigration policies and family separation; pipelines and climate change; use of personal data by social media companies; and on and on it goes.
This Advent season, I have been struck by the multiple investigations at play in the birth-of-Jesus narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The air is thick with investigations in those stories too: an imperial investigation into the population in the form of a census; “wise men from the east” investigating the whereabouts of a new-born king; a murderous king co-opting their investigation for his own purposes; and shepherds – after hearing astounding news from an angel with a group of incredible backing vocalists – going “with haste” to investigate “this thing that has taken place…”
“Glory to God in the highest…” “On earth, peace…” Really? Is that what these investigations reveal?
Pretty hard to see, from where we’re standing. Pretty hard to see in those stories too. I imagine the conversation among those shepherds after they return from their investigative foray to Bethlehem, after the initial enthusiasm and euphoria (“glorifying and praising God” and all that). Sure, we’ve heard this stuff about a baby born – good news, a Saviour, Messiah even. And sure enough, we did find Mary and Joseph and a baby. But look around. What has changed? Peace on earth? Well, let’s wait and see…
Thirty-some years later, and 2000-plus years later, we’re still asking. Glory to God? Peace on earth? Where, exactly?
In my itinerant work, I feel a lot like those shepherds. I keep hearing inspiring words expressing good news. Good news for all people! Glory to God. On earth, peace. Here. Now.
It’s easy to miss it. It’s easy to hear those words and be cynical. It’s easy to look around and be disgusted and despairing about what we see.
But I get to travel around to Bethlehem after Bethlehem, with names like Kidron, New Hamburg, Calgary, Tulsa, Toronto, Kelowna, Hesston, Kitchener, Goshen, Niagara. I get to meet all kinds of people – ordinary people, not powerful kings and queens and presidents and cabinet ministers, but ordinary, average, regular folks. And guess what? I’ve seen Jesus there. Again and again. This prince of peace who shows up without the royal treatment, but in and among “the least of these”… the ones on the edge and at the margins… the children… “where two or three are gathered”…
I feel like I keep shuttling back and forth between inspiring words spoken-and-sung on hillsides, and the messy communities where those words take on flesh. And I’m grateful.
Earlier drafts of this post had lists of some of the people and communities I’ve encountered this year, making visible the angelic announcement of peace. I didn’t know when or how to stop, and the post got way too long. Maybe it’s better that I not try to list them here. Ask me about them sometime – I’ll be glad to share some of the highlights of what I’ve seen and heard. Better yet, look around yourself and see the little glories happening all around you. The ways that peace on earth is being enacted in your community. The way the Word of hope keeps taking on flesh, even now.
Continue the investigation! God is up to something. Still. Again.
I can’t get that angel song out of my ears. Or the manger smell out of my nose. I need them both.