The first reading from the prophet Isaiah talked of God as a powerful and victorious King who has subdued all things under him and brought his people out of exile, back to their land. Yet the reading ends with the idea of God as a shepherd, leading his flock to rest and holding them close to his breast – a much more tender image.
These contradictory images reminded me of a story, a prophecy in fact that is 700 years old. It comes from the Tibetan tradition and was written in the 12th cy. It is the story of the Shambhala Warrior, and it goes like this.
“There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Barbarian powers have arisen. Although they waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate each other, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable devastation and new technologies lay waste the world. It is now, when the future of all beings hangs by the frailest of threads, that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges.
"You cannot go there, for it is not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. But you cannot recognize a Shambhala warrior by sight, for there is no uniform or insignia, there are no banners. And there are no barricades from which to threaten the enemy, for the Shambhala warriors have no land of their own.
"Now comes the time when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors, moral and physical courage. For they must go into the very heart of the barbarian power and dismantle the weapons.
For this they must go into training - and how do they train?
"They train in the use of two weapons, the weapons of insight and compassion, insight to recognise everyone as their brothers and sisters, compassion to feel the pain of the world and respond with love.”
Part of the interfaith journey is to be able to see our own faith and tradition with new eyes and to deepen our understanding of it. The story of the Shambhala warriors helps me look at Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God in a new way. Like the kingdom of Shambhala, the Kingdom of God is hidden, yet everywhere. But it can be spotted. It can be glimpsed wherever there is love and compassion. It can be seen in people who feel the pain of the world and work for justice, in those who care for the environment, those who care for the sick and the homeless, in parents caring for their children, in those who are simply good neighbours. The kingdom is all around us if we have but the eyes to see.
Christians are called to live in this kingdom. We are called to be a leaven in society, to contribute to its transformation by the way we live and the values we live by. We are warriors, soldiers, if you like, for the Kingdom of God. We are called to participate in the transformation of a world that seems caught up in individualism, consumerism, competition, violence, and greed. Pope Francis has called this the revolution of tenderness. And by tenderness he means “using eyes to see each other, ears to listen to the children, to the poor, to those who are afraid of the future, to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth.”
What the Pope is advocating is a way of insight, opening our eyes and being aware of the reality in which we live. And he wants us to respond with tenderness and love which he says is the source and the meaning of life. And in doing this each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness and be a sign of hope for the world today. This is the meaning of Christmas and the lights and candles associated with it.
Pope Francis spoke about this revolution of tenderness at a TED talk given to business leaders on zoom and pointing to the screen he said “a single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And when there is one you, there will be another "you," and another "you," and it turns into an "us." Hope begins with one "you." When there is an "us," there begins a revolution.
And surely this revolution has already begun with all those, religious or not, who love tenderly and seek justice. There is hope for our world.