Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What child is this?

I wrote last week about the importance of incarnation as a fulfillment of God's saving us from death.  I want to push a little into that idea in the hope that we can demythologize and re-apply much of the nostalgia that shapes our attention to the "babe in the manger."

I want to identify the nostalgia but not eradicate it.  There is an important aspect of innocence that night in Bethlehem that needs  a new recognition.  Just as much, it needs balance.  We need to sing "Away in a Manger" and then we need to ask, "why a manger?" We need to sing, "O little town of Bethlehem" and then ask, "why Bethlehem?"

Part of the mythology that would inform our first answers blends together separate Gospel accounts into every character's piety being the same.  Shepherds, wisemen, Joseph even the animals seem to be frozen, almost afraid to "mess it up."

Not a bad choice.  But it is important for us to let each character, each class of character show us more than our dainty crèche sets let us see of their varieties of responses.  

Warned in a dream the wise men go home by another way because of the threat of Herod's violence.  The shepherds understand their unusual inclusion at least as a mild indictment of a world where economic violence castes people into the haves and have nots, the ones expected to speak and the ones expected to stay quiet and out of sight.  It is exactly that they are the ones to share their having heard the angels sing which triggers Mary's pondering.

The world into which Jesus is born is broken, no more or less than today.  Like much of our world it is one way or another fixated on violence, death and sacrifice as the system to set things right.  Even much of the expectation that a Messiah would come is described in terms of war and violence, of political power and heroic actions.

The world wanted a good bully to beat the bad bully.  It will be later in Luke's gospel on the road to Emmaus that we read the story of hearts changed to understand the law and the prophets in a new light other than the one of Isreal's getting even. 

But it takes a baby being born and living and learning and leading and then challenging the very lessons he had learned and the very leaders his people had chosen to save the world that is lost and broken in darkness and violence.

It takes the new light of the incarnation of one who dies and is raised -- first displayed from a manger in Bethlehem -- to tell the story of things being set right by means other than a violence endorsed by God. 

No more bullies.

No smiting, no armies marching, no zealous insurrections.  Just a silent lamb, a light in the darkness, an innocent child born in an obscure village who saves the world. 

No comments: