[Still struggling with Grammerly–please accept yet another post replete with spelling and grammatical errors that I will correct someday.]
Protestia promised all his followers a few days ago that they would really hate this post and my goodness he was right, it’s awful. It’s of a preacher grappling, rather pathetically, with the nature and substance of a miracle. What is a miracle, exactly? And why would a person or a preacher want or need one? I can’t embed the clip so instead I’ve transcribed this bleak and barren preaching effort:
I don’t need to pretend that I believe unbelievable events in mythic literature actually took place. What I need is to remember that I am. What I need to remember is that what I am is a miracle and not a mistake. That’s the miracle I need. I don’t need for anyone to have spent three days in a fish. I couldn’t care less. I don’t need for anyone to have argued with a donkey. Please. I don’t need anyone to be outwitted by a snake. Why are you talking to a snake, whatever. I don’t need anyone to get pregnant at ninety years old. I don’t need anyone to walk on water. I don’t need to try to prove that it did happen, or prove that it didn’t. These are amazing stories. I can work them and wring all kinds of good stuff out of them. But I don’t need any of that. What I need to know is that I matter, I can make a difference, and that me doing what I can in the world is love in action. What I need to know isn’t that a miracle took place two thousand years ago, I need to know that we are miracles today. We are the miracle–the queer miracle, the feminist miracle, the African-American miracle, the immigrant mircle, the refugee miracle, the Latin X miracle, the aids surviving miracle, the grief weary miracle, the justice-love proclaiming miracle, the aging miracle, the prochoice miracle, the transgender miracle, the science nerd miracle, the peacenik hippy throwback miracle.
The clip, at this point, mercifully cuts off, before the Twitter-addled has to find out any more about what the preacher requires for the kind of life he likes best. Funnily enough, I always do think a lot about need this time of year. What do I need? What do other people need? Have I deluded myself into thinking I need something, like new curtains in the dining room, when I only really want them? When the person who drew my name out of the hat asks me what I want for Christmas, should I admit that the thing I most long for is a vacuum? Or should I pretend that I’d be content with something else?
When you’re clicking around Amazon, or driving up and down the ubiquitous shopping strip that makes the American town what it is, the fine distinction between need and want gets blurry and muddled. I have all my children make cold hard Christmas lists in three columns. What you long for goes in the first one. What you really need goes in the next. And the third is the “meh” column. Stuff you’d sort of like but you’re not going to die if you don’t get it. The list is important because I try very hard not to buy anything the rest of the year, except for birthdays. By the time you get to Christmas, you really do “need” socks–as in, you still have socks, and they’re warm enough because I’m not a monster and if you have no socks in October, I will buy you some, but not that many. That’s so that, at Christmas, when you write down “socks” I know you mean it, and I buy you beautiful socks such as your soul longs for.
But then, alongside those items that make life pleasant and comfortable, the lists’ central feature is stuff you just want, like a real sword–gosh that was a fun year. These days the children’s lists are replete with small fair like Rubix cubes, or a different color of comforter, or a certain kind of pens. I mean, I could seriously bore you right now, thinking through all the lists, because I am woefully behind on my shopping and the biggest and most pressing concern I have is how to make it all come out even. I don’t want to be unfair, but I also didn’t force them to ask for all the same number of things. Woe is me. I am going to need a miracle.
I suppose someone could sidle up to me and scold me for being too materialistic at Christmas time. Buying everything your children want only one time a year will turn them into monsters. The reason for the season, that person might say, is Jesus. What on earth are you communicating by heaping packages under a tree? Probably if that person said that right now, I’d fling my phone in their general direction and wander away into the howling wastelands.
What surprises me about the Incarnation–that moment when God took on human flesh and stooped so low to be with us in our stress and misery, to rescue us out of all our troubles–is that it isn’t the solution that anyone looks for. Human people don’t wake up in the morning and think, you know what I really need? For God to atone for my sins by the pure offering of the Son as a perfect sacrifice so that I can once more properly worship on his holy hill and dwell with him for all eternity. That isn’t what they worry about in the early dawn. No, they wake up convulsed with anxiety about where the next crust will come from, and if their neighbors hate them, and if they will be able to give their children good gifts, and if they will keep or lose their jobs, and why on earth people associated with the government are allowed to go into those hollowed chambers and film themselves having sex for some reason. And, I guess, in these latter decadent days, a lot of people wake up every morning worried about whether or not they “matter.”
The preacher said he didn’t “need” a miracle but rather “needs” to know that he is not a “mistake.” He then proceeds to denigrate and malign, through the use of boring and unimaginative sarcasm (‘whatever’ forsooth), the various miracles that God performed throughout human history to show the world what kind of God he is. He had a large fish, for example, swallow his prophet and then spit him out three days later. He had an old lady bear a child. He spoke through the mouth of a donkey. He allowed the serpant into his most hollowed and perfect world to tempt his children. He walked on water. And yes, roughly two thousand years ago, he took on human flesh and came to rescue us out of all our iniquity. I imagine the preacher jumbled these various miracles together, in the order he did, to show the absuridity of God’s action in the world. What could be the purpose of Jonah being in the belly of a fish for three days? The preacher insists he can “wring” meaning out of that “mythic” account, but he doesn’t “need” it, so why bother?
Implied in the preacher’s accusation is that God, or whatever, has wasted his time on fairy stories. He has misunderstood what is really “needed.” God, or whatever, thought the world needed some useless stories that could provide “meaning” of some kind, but how mistaken he was. He was trying to say something, but he wasn’t clever enough to say it well, and, in the meantime, the people are perishing from not knowing that they themselves are really the light that has come into the world. The queer, the trans, the African American, the aids survivor–these are all “miracles” of the same nature as the preacher himself, who, as he does what he can, is “love in action.” The cynic in me might think he is just trying not to be canceled, being, at a glance, on the lowest rung of the hierarchy of “miracles.” What does he really have to offer, being a white man and probably cis? What sort of love does he have to give that might transform the darkness into light, the dry stream bed into a river, the hopeless into someone able to laugh at the days to come? If it’s anything like this sermon, I’m sorry to say that the effort falls far short of a “miracle.” What’s the opposite of a miracle? A desolation? Ordinary life? Making things worse?
When you insist on being God’s special miracle, you will find, at the moment it most particularly matters, that whatever it was God was doing, it wasn’t for you. And look at the sort of things God is doing:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
I always associate this psalm with Easter, what with the sheaves of grain and the weeping being turned into laughing. There isn’t any greater overturning than thinking that someone was dead and then finding they are alive again–except perhaps thinking that you were the one dead, you were stuck in the belly of the fish through your own disobedience and had no way out, you were the one who thoughtfully considered the satanic promise of being God yourself and so plunged the world into sin and death, you were the one who watched the years slip by and had no child to soften your brittle heart and make you kind, you were the one slipping below the waves because you had no power over the weather, you were dying in your sins and had no hope, and then–what? Suddenly all that ruin faded into a forgettable dream because the God who you did not trust and did not believe in came suddenly to you to pull you out of the pit you were busily digging for yourself. He, who knew no sin, stepped out of heaven, loving his own to the very end. He takes the tears and desolation and transforms them into joy and gladness.
And precher has the temerity to say he doesn’t “need” that? Well, then, he must be a great fool. We should pray for him while we eat our piles of Christmas chocolate and heap our presents under our Christmas trees and pray for each other all week, relieved that nothing depends on us in the final reckoning. In point of fact, we are not the “miracle” because we were the ones that made the miracle a necessity. And God, who loves us, spared not even his own Son to rescue us out of all our troubles.
For heaven’s sake, and your own, go to any church where you won’t hear such drivel this morning.
And check out my substack for more tips about how to celebrate the Feast.