December 20, 2015
In 2014, our two youngest daughters, Rachel and Grace, found out that they were pregnant on the same day. They scrambled to get the news to each other before telling anyone save their husbands. Alas, Grace had left her cell phone at home when she went to work. With the two-hour time change, the news had to wait another day. How hard that must have been for them!
The joyful news finally got out. I can imagine the fast-paced conversation, the squealing laughter, the camaraderie. Serendipitously, their first sonograms were also scheduled for the same day. Lo and behold, Grace and Dave were expecting twins, and Rachel her third child. Mama Rachel quickly became the ‘seasoned elder’ to her younger sis in the modern mothering department.
While this story does not parallel Luke’s account of the pregnancies of Elizabeth and her younger cousin, Mary, the shared feelings of joy, anticipation, family ties, and uncertainty reflect a certain timelessness. Two women, caught up in the biggest drama of their lives–together on a journey neither could ever imagine.
Last week, Steve spoke of the Christmas story as “God’s practical joke,” a comment made by Canadian Mennonite pastor, Ralph Milton. Milton imagines God cackling away in delight as the stunning reversals of this remarkable drama unfold–a pregnant teenager singing a subversive song, a stable birth, rough-hewn shepherds, rejoicing angels, a threatened ruler. What could be more shocking than the arrival of a wailing infant-king, born in a smelly manger, when no better place could be found?
The Princes of the World still cannot embrace the true import of this narrative. It may be sung by choirs, piped into malls, recited at Christmas plays, ad infinitum. But the Deep Story, the Real Story, is and always has been quite revolutionary.
Hands down, Advent is my favorite season of the Church Year. Anyone else feel the same way? Incarnation shouts Presence with a Capital “P.” Incarnation announces an Embodied God.
This week, Steve and I received several Christmas letters. In one, the writer makes this comment, “I hope you take time out during this busy season to remember that Christmas is about Christ coming to redeem us by his death and resurrection.”
I stopped short when I read that. This comment passes right over the Incarnation, blasting on to Holy Week. What about Jesus’ life, his powerful ministry, the ways he challenges the religious and political status quo? What about the fact that his very arrival as ‘Son of God’ challenges Caesar, the ruler of the Roman Empire, who his subjects call by that same title?”
Incarnation is about the Face of a Present God-made-flesh. Thirsty and hungry. Energized and tired. Disturbed and satisfied. Joyful and tearful. Bold and careful. Trusting and agonizing.
‘Matter’ simply matters to God. What happens here, today, in this place, matters. The agony and ecstasy of being human matters. Your joy matters; your tears matter. Your gratitude matters; your heartaches matter. The ant matters; the hippopotamus matters. The coral reefs matter; the polar bears matter. The glories and convulsions of our planet matter. The cosmos matters. It all matters.
Incarnation also reminds me that Presence, God-with-Us, is what we need, much more than Explanation. I recently read an amazing blog, debunking the popular Christian belief (or myth; however you see it), “Everything happens for a reason.” Have you heard that recently? I did just this past week.
The longer I live, the more I react to this statement. Do we thus attribute rape, starvation, genocide, and a thousand other sufferings to “God’s reasons”?
Such theology too often breeds passivity to injustice and blindness to privilege. In his wonderful reflection on this topic, Tim Lawrence quotes his mentor, Megan Devine, saying, “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried” (see brightside.me/article/not-everything-happens-for-a-reason-the-magic-words-to-say-when-everythings-going-wrong).
Amen to that!
As humans, we crave answers. Explanations comfort our rational minds, yet Presence strengthens our deepest heart. What does Job, the ancient suffering saint, desire from God, through all his cumulative catastrophes? His deepest longing is for Presence. He yearns, even aches, to simply Hear God’s Voice.
In Job’s story, Presence finally comes amid a Whirlwind. In the prophet Elijah’s story, Presence arrives in the form of a Still, Small Voice. Presence has many Faces and Forms, visiting us through prayer, nature, friendship, solitude, even anonymous gestures of caring.
Finally, Incarnation is about Turning the World Order Upside Down. This is indeed of Ultimate Concern to God. TV pundits endlessly dissect the latest polls. Some presidential candidates vie for the honor of who can flatten a village and defeat the enemy better than the next guy.
But Incarnation proclaims both a different Word and a different World. On Facebook, I recently saw a photo of a church sign. It read: “The Christmas Story: A Middle Eastern Family Seeks Refuge.” This embodies the heart of our ancient narrative, my friends. An upside-down, inside-out Gospel. This is the Jesus Story we celebrate, remember, and live into, all year long.
I invite you to have an Incarnational Christmas. Amen.