A church that doesn’t provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a Word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, what kind of gospel is that? Preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed do not light up the world!
– Archbishop Oscar Romero
I know some believe Romero was speaking, here to the non-progressives in the church, but I have always thought he could have been speaking just as easily to the numerous priests and lay people who have watered down the gospel so as to “get along” with progressives. When I see (as I did recently in upstate NY) a priest allow himself to be cowed into never uttering the word “he,” even when clearly speaking about Jesus, and to be treated like a stud, needed only to consecrate the bread before the busy, self-important layfolk could take over, and when I hear them utter silliness in order to be politically correct and avoid confrontation, then I think of Romero’s words.
I’m thinking about them again, in response to the vehement responses, in post-Christian England, to Narnia, and even some of theless-vehement, but still watery admonishments against such overreaction.
I’m thinking about it again as I read about Jesus Without Miracles (A “truly American gospel! A more user-friendly Jesus, less haranguing, more socially concerned, mannnnn…), which Amy Welborn capably takes on.
Every December, the world goes mad and tries to do away with Jesus, even as he comes – as he approaches, now. And still he comes. And every Easter, he rises.
For the rest of us, on this day in Advent, our Vespers contain this reading:
We eagerly await the coming of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will give new form to this lowly of ours and remake it according to the patter of his glorified body, by his power, to subject everything to himself. – Philippeans, 3:20-21
In the morning we pray, “Your light will come, O Jerusalem/the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty,” and in the evening, we pray, “Come and set us free, Lord God of power and might/Let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.”
Words of comfort and joy for some…ants in the pants for others.
I think the Incarnation is enormously upsetting to human pride. Here, we think we’re all that, and then, we recall that God condescended to come and live with us, be one with us, “set his tent among” us (which is so much more intimate than merely “dwelling” with us. A king may “dwell” but stay removed in his castle. When he sets his tent with us, he is right in the thick of things.)
We stand in pride and are laid low to remember that he came in deepest humility, the humility of the wood of the manger – a food bin, meant to feed us all – the humility of the wood of the cross, body broken, blood spilled.
We, so full of ourselves as to wonder why anyone would need “the old myths” when our human sensibilities and moral outlooks are so stunningly sophisticated and admirable. Who needs a savior, surely we can save ourselves?
The wood of the manger. The wood of the cross. Food for the world.
All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!
2 Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.
3 Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.
4 As I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of nations,
5 So shall you summon a nation you knew not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, Because of the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near.
7 Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; Let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
9 As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.
10 For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats,
11 So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
12 Yes, in joy you shall depart, in peace you shall be brought back; Mountains and hills shall break out in song before you, and all the trees of the countryside shall clap their hands.
13 2 In place of the thornbush, the cypress shall grow, instead of nettles, the myrtle. This shall be to the LORD’S renown, an everlasting imperishable sign.
– Isaiah, Chapter 55
God is outside of time – time does not exist. He came, he comes, still. He is today in the humble manger, he is today on the humble cross. We hunger. He thirsts for us. We cannot save ourselves.
O Come, thou Dayspring from on high
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadow put to flight
O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace
Rejoice! Rejoice O Israel
To you shall come Emmanuel!