Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Shock and Awww

In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: ‘A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end’ (Is 9:5f.). Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: his name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father. We are presented with a vision that extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And his peace has no end. The prophet had previously described the child as ‘a great light’ and had said of the peace he would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Is 9:1, 3-4).
Homily, Mass, December 25, 2011
Reflection – You know, there is an element of Christmas, understandable and really quite appropriate, that one could term the ‘awww’ factor. The cute little baby, the mother, the ox and ass, shepherds carrying little lambs. All very lovely, like a Christmas card or a snow globe or something.
And this is truly part of the picture. Babies are cute—ain’t no denying it. But of course we cannot stay there – God became cute for our sake. He didn’t become cute; he became weak, helpless, poor, naked, cold. He took to himself a body to be pierced and crushed, a heart to be broken, a soul to descend to the dead.
This Christmas mystery, if it is more than just a cute tableau at the local grade school Christmas pageant, is the most central reality of human history. God did this for us. God, in a manner beyond all understanding, became one of us. The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace shivers on straw and needs to be carried from place to place. It is a shocking picture.
And we are plunged into mystery within mystery in this. The historical fact of the Incarnation is deep mystery, and then within it is the deeper mystery of just how this is breaking any rod of any oppressor, how this removes any burden off of any shoulders.
God does this mighty deed to save us, and it baffles us. What difference does Jesus make, anyhow? Wars and hatred and oppression have gone on quite nicely for the last 2000 years, after all, and Christians have not been noticeably absent from the field.
What does Jesus liberate us from? What did his coming as man change? It’s all about this blasted will to power, this terrible dynamism in humanity that drives so much, if not all, of the hatred and violence and exploitation that makes life on earth hell on earth.
God strips Himself of power, and in that stripping recreates the universe. And in that stripping, and that recreation, we human beings are, if we choose, freed from the horrible slavery of power and its ruthless demands. I do not need to manipulate, control, exploit, use you. You do not need to manipulate, control, exploit, use me. God opens up, in Christ, another path to walk. A difficult path, a true via crucis, and it is no great wonder that so many have declined to follow Christ down that path. But it is a path that leads to life and glory, where the other path (the way of the world) leads to death and degradation.
God is born among us, and in Him we have a different way to live. That’s all. But that’s everything. God is born among us, and so we have hope that love is stronger, that mercy is deeper, that life is victorious. That’s all.

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