I’ve noticed a lot of different kinds of Christians talking about Advent in the last week who, I’m pretty sure, weren’t contemplating such mysteries about ten years ago. It seems like a sort of social contagion, of the best kind. Everyone, or at least, a lot of people long for a taste of this joyous sobriety, and I, for one, am delighted to welcome them.
morning afternoon, a good portion of Christian Twitter/X is talking about surrogocy. Those two men who identify as political conservatives arranged to have a woman have a baby for them for financial remuneration, and then got the baby, and then posted their happy picture online. I’m with Mary Harrington on this one–no one should deliberately sever the bond between mother and baby. No baby should have two “dads.” Babies shouldn’t be bought and sold, and neither should the women who give them life. This should be a “no-brainer.” Unhappily the connection between the brain and the heart, always tennous at best, is freying even at the level of society and not just for individual people stumbling around, trying to find their way out of the zeitgiest.
The brilliant thing about Advent–scratch that, there are too many brilliant things about Advent to ennumerate them all in one blog post–one of the delights of Advent is how, for a while, the curtain is torn back and Christians who really do know and love the Lord are invited to contemplate the spiritual cataclysm not only of redemption which is grand enough in itself, but the forthcoming tumult when the Lord will return. The two moments are mashed together, or, in the parlance of today, mapped over each other. Just when you think you’ve caught a glimpse of the first moment, redemption, someone shouts in your ear that there’s more to come.
“Oh,” cries the prophet, “that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountins might quake at your presence.” It’s not something you should ask for if you haven’t thought about it for a few minutes. For what are the consequences of God entering into his own creation? On Friday I said that one of the things you discover when you read the Bible–for real, not in the desultory manner of progressives who, while explaining that they keenly desire to know what it says, proceed to ask all the wrong questions like, ‘where are the contradictions?’ and ‘where is the text wrong and how, exactly, am I right?’–is that you are what is called a “sinner.”
Sin, for this society filled to the brim with confusion and darkness, is a bugaboo–just to grab a word that’s been jangling around in my lexical clutter-box all week. If you mention sin, the twitterati get stressed out. They begin to tap wildly on their phones to tell the offending tweeter to buzz off. But then, as the threads wend swiftly by, they begin to remind themselves that it’s no big deal. Because they are precious in God’s sight, made in his very image, whatever they are inclined to do–and, more importantly, whatever and whoever they feel they are–their failings and shortcomings are not reprehensible, especially not to God. Nothing they do would be so vile that God would remove them from his sight. God might be annoyed because they haven’t made very good choices today, but he will never be really angry with them. If anything, he is the baddie for not wiping away all their tears in an expedient manner. He hasn’t made them perfectly comfortable in their souls or bodies. Now that they think about it, maybe he should apologize. If this is the sort of emotional and spiritul world in which you dwell, asking God to “rend the heavens and come down” will render to you a shock. For when God comes into his own creation, it is not to affirm his creatures, it is to rescue them the way Lot was snatched out of Sodom while the fire was falling from the sky.
The trouble with sin–scratch that, there are too many troubles, I can’t name them all–one of the troubles with sin is that it dwells so deep in the soul. The sinner is a person who doesn’t want to be with God on the terms that God requires. The sinner doesn’t just do some bad things occassionally, the sinner is someone who feels, bone deep, that God is the enemy. I don’t know about you, but the few people who have made themselves my enemies make me angry when I think about them. I try not to, but when the thought of them creeps into my mind, my body tenses and I am flooded not with feelings of love, but with recrimminations, hurt, and wrath.
All this to say, for the prophet to cry out to God–“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down”–means that he, the prophet, has done some of his own spiritual work. The sin part of the equation, for, indeed, he is a sinner and God is just and right to be angry with him and with all the people caught up in this prophetic utterance, has got to be dealt with. Dealing with sin is the first and most essentil part of God’s advent into the world. Just to be pedantically clear, God comes to deal with, you guessed it, sin. For if the heavens quake at the presence of God, how much more will you quake when you behold him? The prophet continues:
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
Isn’t it strange how the sinner is caught by a person who “joyfully works righteousness?” No one has heard of this person, or seen him who acts for those who wait. Something must have happened. How can we all be like one unclean? How can we all fade like a leaf in the wind and then suddenly be able to say this:
But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.
What is the “now?” Of course, it is Jesus whose birth we are about to remember. Of course, it is the Lord himself who rended not the heavens, but the quiet social fabric of Galilee and the expectations and plans of his blessed mother. Of course, it is he who knew no sin, who came on purpose to take ours away from us so that we could look at him and see him, so that we could hear his voice and understand that he is the Word himself.
Oh happy fault, to be a sinner so rescued, so incorporated into the mystical Body of the Son. Just think, he will be coming again soon and the mountians will quake, the stars will fall from the sky, and the sea will be no more. But he will be there, and we will get to see him face to face.
So anyway, hope you went to church! I sure did!
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