Sunday, November 27, 2005

The God Who Comes Down

My Lord, what a morning!
My Lord, what a morning!
Oh, my Lord, what a morning!
When the stars begin to fall.

We sang this old African-American spiritual this morning in church. We also sang the European spiritual "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Two songs with origins in very different cultural contexts, but both expressing the same longing -- what someone has called the "eschatological itch."

Ever feel that itch? I feel it, sometimes, watching the evening news, with its nightly illustrated litany of global misery and violence and stupidity. As I hear about the latest degradations of people and planet, I find myself thinking: How bad does it have to get?

Today in his sermon my pastor noted that he finds the end-of-the-world scenarios described here and elsewhere troubling; hard to read. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I'm an earth-dweller. I love it here." Now, I'm on the same page with my pastor most of the time, and I agree with him that today's Old Testament and Gospel texts make me wince...but for a different reason. I find my natural skepticism running up against the promise made time and time again in Scripture that, no matter how it may seem to us, history is ultimately in God's hand; that, in the end, "all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well." Some days, frankly, that seems just too good to be true.

I don't even try to speculate on the how's and when's of the denouement of the human story; as we read in today's Gospel lesson (and contrary to the purveyors of pop Christianity), it's an exercise in futility. I can't wrap my head around stuff like this anyway. For me it's a topic that leads to 2 a.m. "What sort of religious craziness have you gotten yourself into?" second-guessing; been there, done that, very wearying of mind and soul, don't want to do it again.

But what I can maybe hang onto by a quivering fingernail or two is the idea that God, for whatever God's reasons, wants us to know that we are not alone on this journey, as difficult and dangerous as it may be. That God wants us to know this so much that God "came down" -- not only down from God's glory, God's otherness, but down the same birth canal we all travel, down and out, bloody and bawling. And that God grew up as one of us and lived with us for 30-some years, and then died, the way we all die; and more than that, died in the way that the least among us die -- alone, abandoned, in pain, wondering why.

The other Sunday, in talking about Jesus' kenosis, his emptying of self into the human experience, my pastor wondered how our lives might be different if, every day in this time between the now and the not-yet, we looked for opportunities to show Jesus that his coming down and emptying out of himself on our behalf was worth it. Between you and me, threats of impending apocalyptic doom don't do a lot to bring me closer to Christ; but the thought of letting Christ down in the time that I have on this planet -- which is now over a decade more than his time -- gives me pause.

The late theologian Dorothee Soelle wrote that she was a Christian because she didn't want Jesus to suffer alone for his proposition. Today, beginning the journey of Advent, looking back to that first time of waiting and longing even while living with our own waiting and longing -- even as we may struggle with the question of how our lives matter in the greater scheme of things -- I want to respond to God's coming down for us in a way that says, "It was worth it. It did matter. And I want to walk with you the way you've walked with me." That, I think, is going to be my spiritual, on my own path through the Advent season.

"Leonid Sunrise," photo by Wally Pacholka at Astropics  Posted by Picasa


J.C. Fisher said...

Another great reflection, LC (Especially love "down the birth canal": excellent turn-of-phrase/observation!).

I'm just a happy camper, for our singing "Lo, He Comes" this morning: really love that hymn (though I always hum much of the 2nd verse, because it's basically pretty anti-Semitic :-/).

Verdugo said...

One of the ancient mystics-- can't remember who-- talked about advent as a time when, like Mary, we become "Christ-bearers" who nurture the growing Christ within us.

Pregnancy for me was always, like advent, a tenuous time of waiting (perhaps because of numerous miscarriages). A time when everything seemed to be on tip-toe, hushed, at a standstill-- waiting for the child to come. During pregnancy, everything in life focuses around the child within. Every decision-- what to eat, what not to eat, what to do, what to wear-- is dictated by that focus on nurturing the precious life within.

During advent, we can experience that same "on tip-toe" waiting, as we intentionally focus on nurturing the presence of Christ within us. Making intentional choices-- what things to take into the body-- or the mind-- that will nurture the Spirit of Christ-- and what things to avoid that will be obstacles.