Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Third Sunday of Advent, 2013: A Mensch, A Virgin, and a God

Again, days late, but I have other deadlines 

God, it is said, loves stories.  More than stories, God seems to truly love paradox.

Isaiah 35:1-10
35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus

35:2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.

35:3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

35:6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

35:7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

35:8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

35:9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

It is a mistake to assume the paradoxes of Christianity which are such stumbling blocks are items like the virgin birth.  It goes so much deeper than that that to stop there is to strain at gnats and swallow camels.  Let's start here, with the burning sand becoming a pool, and the thirsty ground turning into springs of water while where the jackals roam turns into a swamp and the grasses are replaced by  reeds and rushes.  Let's start here, where the blind become sighted, the lame leap and dance, the deaf hear music.

There's a great deal more of that in the Hebrew Scriptures than verses about vengeance and punishment and even virgins giving birth.  God loves paradox, because God is paradox; and the incarnation which Christians celebrate again this time of year has been rightly called the Absolute Paradox.

Well, by those of a philosophical turn of mind, and a certain openness to lived experiences they may not themselves have lived....

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Imagine if this came true, how critics of Pope Francis would howl!  Imagine if the Pope simply read this verse aloud in a setting other than a cathedral or Mass.  Imagine if he simply read it to a reporter, to a press conference, released it as a statement from the Church in Rome.  What would people say?

Would they say that God loves paradox?  Would they appreciate this as a call to justice?  Would they even listen?  What could be done to rescue these words from "scripture" and make them live and breathe and even burn, again?

James 5:7-10
5:7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

5:10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The prophets had to wait.  The prophets had to endure.  Jeremiah wept for his people.  Ezekiel was considered mad.  Hosea married a prostitute, and named his son "God sows" and his daughter "Not loved."  That last one must have really hurt.  They did not want to condemn Israel, these prophets.  But they had to tell Israel the truth, and wait for that truth to unravel the fabric of the nation.  Then they had to wait for the people to be ready to weave the nation anew.
Matthew 11:2-11
11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples

11:3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

11:4 Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see:

11:5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

11:6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

11:7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?

11:8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.

11:9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

11:10 This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'

11:11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The poor will be fed.  The blind will see.  The deaf will hear, the dead be raised, lepers will be clean, the lame will walk.  Walk.  See.  Hear.  Jesus didn't put it in the future tense; he put it in the present tense.  More paradox.  Why doesn't that happen now?  Why didn't that continue to happen?  Why do we have to wait?  Why do we not understand?

And notice what Jesus says in response to the question.  He doesn't give them a lecture, a disquisition, his papers of authority, a closely reasoned argument or even a midrashic reading of scripture.  He simply tells them:  "Tell John what you see and hear."  Sure, he's practically quoting Isaiah there, but it is what is done that matters.  Jesus doesn't even talk about what John said:

 "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet."
Not "what did you go to hear, what did you think when you listened, what did you learn from what John said:  "What did you go out there to look at?"

What do you see?  What do you hear?  Do you see the lame dancing? Do you hear the mute singing?  Out of the poverty of the nativity will come richness.  After all, what did you go to the manger to see?  A prince dressed in purple?  Or a peasant's child who would shake the foundations of the world by what he did, by who he loved, by what he accepted and what he rejected, by who gets fed and who now goes hungry, by who gets raised up, and who gets tossed down to be their equals?

God loves paradox, and the greatest paradox of all is the power of God's powerlessness.  It is the power of love, which has no power at all and, if it did, would no longer be love.

And what is love, except what we do, and not what we say?

No comments:

Post a Comment