Posted by Christopher Johnson | Saturday, December 31st, 2011 | Uncategorized | 18 Comments
It’s never a good idea to deliberately set out to try to be profound. You either are or you aren’t. And if you try to be profound and if what you have to say isn’t profound at all, you tend to sound like a particularly pompous baboon.
Case in point: the Christmas Eve sermon of the Presiding Bishop of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori:
The eternal hope and yearning of the human race emerges from darkness into light in the birth of this child both humble and divine. We have burdened his shoulders with every earthly failing and divine hope – for light in the darkness, warmth in the cold, food for our hunger, righteousness in place of injustice, an end to violence and war, and a lasting and eternal peace. Those yearnings continue to burst forth in human hearts, and we live in hope that his reign will ultimately bring them to reality. We gather to celebrate his birth and recover that eternal hope.
True if inelegantly phrased. Most Christians think of Jesus as Someone a lot more important than Our Heavenly Janitor, sent by God merely to clean up our messes. To them, Christ’s coming means infinitely more than Mrs. Schori communicates here.
Jesus is born anew in human hearts every time we meet the vulnerable – which is all of us, once we awaken to the reality of our own longing.
I guess the Presiding Bishop meant something there but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what that might be. Jesus is born anew whenever “we meet the vulnerable?” So He’s not alive whenever we meet someone who isn’t vulnerable?
And what does “awaken to the reality of our own longing” even mean anyway? If we’re asleep, “the reality of our own longing” means nothing. If we’re not, it doesn’t seem that “the reality of our own longing” would need waking up.
We are all filled with the same yearnings for an enduring home and healing in a community of peace.
Particularly in this season of want and uncertainty we look for stability, confidence, and faith in something or someone beyond our own insufficiency.
Actually, we look for someone to pay for our sins and give us a way home to our Father in heaven. Most of us figured out that we were insufficient a long time ago. Kind of the reason for the whole Cross thing.
This frail infant is clothed with divine glory – the lowly lifted up and the hungry fed at his birth.
Once again, I’ll be damned if I know what that means.
Parents, elders, and teachers steward our growing wisdom and awareness and guide us into growth toward the full stature of Christ – the glory of God in a human being fully alive.
Since a human being fully dead wouldn’t impress anybody. It’d creep them out, actually. But what if our “parents, elders and teachers” are atheist crapweasels? They’re not going to guide us into much of anything useful or worthwhile.
Each one comes into a stable like this one, hoping to meet the holy. We meet that holy child in every vulnerable human being, in every one who hungers and thirsts. We meet him growing to maturity in all who answer their neighbor’s vulnerability and need. He is present with us at this table and at every table and meeting where need meets response. Salvation lies all around us.
I own a book called The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim. Written in the 19th century, Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity, attempted a life of Our Lord alongside the times in which He lived and moved and had His being.
I’ve read the thing at least three times and I’ve just started reading it again. Why, Chris? You already know how it’s going to end. Why keep reading it over and over?
That’s just it. That story, more than all stories, has power all by itself. It literally doesn’t get old. I can read it again and again and not get bored. It needs no embellishment and no help whatsoever.
Which is why, when I was an Episcopalian, I used to dread this time of year. The sermons I heard would invariably try to mine something new and different and profound out of this story. And like Mrs. Schori, they would fail miserably.