Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The One Who You Behold Is A Divine Mystery

A few days past, I was pointed to an article in that left me shaking my head, not because it is untrue, but because it is not a full enough vision. I must confess that I remain unconvinced of the ueber-seriousness sometimes found in the writings of the likes of Hauerwas and Wright. Something of wonder is lost in their want for the singularly corrective historical and ethical, biblical and traditional that finally does not do for me what these are intended to do, make This One alive in our time and place and culture in each of us in our own way together. Moves that, first, would press one season to another, Christmas to Advent, as if the two seasons together, along with Epiphany through Presentation to Transfiguration, indeed, by Lent onward through All Saints, do not break open a fuller and more whole encounter of Jesus, each in their own way, as they comingle, collide, and coalesce. I think of that verse of “What Child Is This?” when Good Friday breaks into Christmas Day:
Why lies He in such mean estate Where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear: for sinners here The silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce him through, The Cross be borne for me, for you; Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh, The babe, the son of Mary!
Or of those words of Wesley’s "Hark! The Heralds Angels Sing" when Pentecost closes upon us at Christmas: “born to give us second birth.” Or of Watt’s “Joy to the World” when Advent breaks into Christmas: “Joy to the world! the Lord is come: Let earth receive her King.” Persons are finally irreducible, are ultimately, not amenable to our grasping. And that must especially pertain to the Incarnate Word, the Infinite, Eternal Second Person, who emptied himself and commits himself to our finite and mortal condition in his Incarnation. Jesus Christ is irreducible and not amendable to our grasping. But this same Jesus grasps us as one of my favorite Noon Prayer collects reminds us: “Grant that all the peoples of the earth may look to you and be saved.” Our seeing and hearing this One, these move us to change...can do so for each and all of us, because the One we meet, being God, can meet us each and all where we are at. Not as we might become, not as others think we should be. Austin Farrer’s words posted by Fr. Gunter struck a bingo:
God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is, and it remains for us, a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives us a Son. Such is the spirit of the angel's message to the shepherds: 'Peace upon earth, good will to men . . . and this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.' A Son is better than an explanation. The explanation of our deaths leaves us no less dead than we were, but a Son gives us a life in which to live. – Austin Farrer (1904-1968)
Moves, that second, can so easily lead to justifications of our agendas. We can move so quickly to press Jesus to our agendas, political and ethical and otherwise, that we fail to leave space for others to encounter the Living and Incarnate and Wounded Person. When we do so, we leave no room for conversion…not to what we think the other person should do, but to what God is calling that person to become, which is never precisely what we think they should be or do. You see, our Mother Mary’s Song, and St. Zechariah’s, and St. Simeon’s, yes, they declare God’s Reign and the overturning of all that is at odds with God’s Reign, but they proclaim a doing of that that is finally not ours to complete, but a Person who is the Ruler and the Dominion. And this One, in the mean time, makes room for each and everyone one of us moved to become a someone called to a particular becoming in Him, a particular part in that Dominion, to be particular and unique…and that usually isn’t who others have decided for us, pressing their own desires or calling or becoming onto all others in pushy, moralizing fashion. Holiness has a million faces, each distinct, all Christlike. Archbishop Rowan Williams puts it beautifully when he writes:
The Church exists to be itself a symbol of God's purpose for a reconciled humanity; as such it works on the assumption that we do not yet know where the boundaries of the Body of Christ might finally lie. It cannot assume that this or that group is ultimately unreconcilable to God or to the rest of humanity. This is not because of any sentimental preconceptions about the natural goodness of human beings, but because of a conviction that the call of God can be addressed to any human person or community, and that is the same call to compassion, justice, conscious, and responsible love. Thus policies which involve wholesale slaughter or which rest on indiscriminate demonisation of a real or potential enemy cannot be squared with the kind of thing the Church is. Just by being itself, the Church will put a question to any such distorted ideas. The Church proclaims that there is one human destiny and that is found in relation to one focal figure, Jesus; but also that what this human destiny means cannot be worked out without "communion", a relation of profound and costly involvement with each other and receiving from each other. This and this alone is what saves the proclamation of Christ's uniqueness from being a piece of ideological tyranny. Only as each different "other" becomes a friend and a member of the Body can we discern how the unity of the Body will look; we do not begin with a blueprint which is to be forced on the stranger, or even a timetable and a programme for how they must accept the gospel. It is a matter of looking at the stranger with candour, patience, and hope, in the trust that our common destiny can be uncovered by the grace of Christ. -Rowan Williams, The Truce of God, 27.
Precisely in hymn sings and liturgies and at table in song of Christ to Christ we are changed…our hearts are moved…often slowly imperceptibly…not all at once…in a twinkling…a bit... Persons with too much may not be moved by a political rant or a hymn so ethically focused that no room for meeting the Living God is left to them, but they may be moved by an Infant nestled on hay at the back of an inn, in a cave surrounded by adoring parents, shepherds, astrologers, and farm animals accompanied to an angel’s praise. By a pageant. By a song of adoration. By candlelight. In our going out into dark night. And looking up to see the moon perfectly ringed by an opening in the clouds, like last night. And wonder. Awe. Tremble. And no the historical accounts we sing are not all sewn up so quickly as the author would suggest of the hymns. Compare ten Christmas hymns on the matter. The accounts aren’t sewn up tight in the Gospels for good reason. This gives us room. On the contrary to the ueber-serious, the point of Christmas hymns is what we will make of the contextualization of this One, this Joy, in our time, and culture, and place, and yes, politics, just as so many of our Christmas hymns do just that in the climes and times of those who composed them. Our politics is response, and necessary, but not the encounter. The setting of things right, God's politics if you will, which is more than our politics can attain, in the Canticles will finally not be ours but the advent doing of the One we encounter. So be careful of reducing these matters, right, left, or center. And what responses in this mean time! “Go Tell It” is a rousing strength by those enslaved the United States every bit as much as powerful as Wesley’s “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is a revolt against the slave trade. But do we know that about either hymn? To what do they move us today? “Go Tell It” moves me to consider how the Glad Tidings are for all of creation, not just homo sapiens sapiens. Precisely at Christmas, as not other time, save Good Friday, there is room for the flesh in our fullness, for the affective, even yes, the sentimental and schlocky and tacky and kitsch that moves our hearts in ways that moralizing or right history or politics or the correct interpretation or a singular read of tradition alone cannot. I think of my mother-in-law last night, singing along in German to the hymns we sang in English…and later that evening, as we bustled in the kitchen in preparation for today’s open house Christmas Day dinner, my humming “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and her singing along in German as she peeled potatoes. Here too in the singing, a political happening unfolds, a dinner prepared for others. I think of the too many sermons that tell us that Jesus came for some or another group. No, I have to respond, Jesus came for all—all of humanity, rich and poor and inbetween, all sentient and living creatures, rocks and stars, every speck of dust and lone atom. Not first and foremost to save us, but first and foremost to be with us, to love us…and it is his loving us that changes us. Our salvation is the consequence of his becoming flesh, one of us, loving us in the flesh, not as a sort of mechanistic first thing, as the reason for the Incarnation. The Reason is kinship and friendship, and these invite us into citizenship. It is this Love first that we sing at Christmastide, the Reason of the Season, Glad Tidings, sometimes in kitschiness. It is, however, this first thing tendency we give to the reason for Jesus' coming, this same pressing want to make of the Person a result or consequence, that makes me uncomfortable when applied too easily to the Canticles and their declarations of upheaval, for that upheaval is an upheaval Who is King and Kingdom, and none of our politics will remain on that Day. In the mean time, we live as if, and in our own small ways, each in our contribution, our responsive works of love, our citizenship, live out the hope of this End. And the schmaltz of Christmas Day moves my heart toward fellow human beings in a very sad moment in our nation's life when calls to do this or that left, right, and center simply do not and cannot. The contextualization of this One is precisely why the Benedictus and the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis are not only Christmas or Advent songs, but songs we sing in Lent, and Easter, and after Pentecost, and on All Saints. In every season, we are called to put on, contextualize, make manifest the One who became one of us, Jesus Christ. A song about a sweet Child in a manger is political in a way that breaks apart all of our political categories, makes room for us to become the one who God is calling us each to be, uniquely holy, makes room for us to greet others as Christ:
Goodwill greets us by the strong wails of a newborn crying, his wail our own and every, his stillest sleep is no more Peace than his raising a tiny hand, clenched to fist With-Us.