Friday, December 31, 2004

A Christmas Tsunami

by Nathan Netherton of South Yarra Community Baptist Church, Melbourne, Australia. His own site is http://LaughingBird.net/. I found it on the liturgy-l list.

A sermon by Nathan Nettleton, 2 January 2004
preached in response to the South Asia Tsunami disaster
Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18

Nine nights ago we gathered here to sing and celebrate
We told stories about a baby
A baby who would save the world
A baby whose birth was greeted by angels
A baby whose birth meant tidings of joy for all people everywhere
We spoke of God-made-flesh
Cute chubby baby flesh

We sang familiar songs
We enjoyed familiar company
We smiled at baby Piper playing over here as we sang about the baby
We drank champagne and ate Christmas cake
God was in heaven and all was well with the world
Or so it seemed

But all was not well with the world
A pressure was building up deep beneath the surface
Two unyielding forces were pushing against each other
And we sang on, oblivious
And others partied on
And holidayed on
Walked along moonlit beaches hand in hand
Wrapped final presents as the kids fell asleep
But underneath, the pressure grew and grew

"All is calm, all is bright" we sang
"Sleep in heavenly peace"
"Now you here of endless bliss" we sang
"While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love"
"We will live forever more, because of Christmas Day", we sang
But the pressure grew and grew
knowing nothing of the bliss of our songs
or the angels' watch

Nothing gave way that night, or the next
But the pressure went right on building
And the next morning all hell broke loose
It was a simple thing really
Those two great forces pushing against one another
One slipped a bit
The earth shuddered
The pressure was released
All quite simple
The sudden movement caused a wave
Quite explainable

But as the churches went on singing that Sunday morning
Singing songs about that lovely baby again
That wave was tearing babies out of people's arms
Sucking beds out through hotel windows with people still in them
Dumping sharks in swimming pools
Turning idyllic beachside villages into churning soups
of angry water and broken glass and car parts and blood
and corrugated iron and dying children
and splintered wood

It was all over in minutes
The water ran back into the sea
taking with it whatever it wished
whatever it hadn't impaled or trapped or buried

We've all seen pictures of what it left behind
Haunting horrible pictures
Mud and ruins and corpses
Tens of thousands of corpses
Old, young, men, women
The life sucked out of them
Dead children strewn everywhere
Hundreds and hundreds of dead babies

What child is this who laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping?
What child is this who laid to rest
in the mud and devastation of Aceh?
And what child is this?
And this?
And this?
Who knows?
Corpses everywhere
Battered lifeless unnamed corpses
Every now and then there is a scream
and one of the living gives a name to one of the dead
and grieves
and thousands more lay waste in the sun
some perhaps with no one left alive who knew their name

What can we say?
Who wants to sing of cute babies now?
Who wants to stand up and talk of the Word made flesh?
There's flesh strewn all over the streets
Broken lifeless flesh
Beginning to bloat in the sun

What do those songs we were singing mean now?
Do the angels' tidings of great joy mean anything in the face of this?
Can we stand in the mud and debris of Banda Aceh or Phuket or Galle
and speak of the one who is called Emmanuel
God with us?

Or would it sound obscene?
But that's the challenge isn't it?
Because if the Christmas gospel has nothing meaningful to say
in Tamil Nadu or the Maldives or Meuloboh
then it doesn't really have anything meaningful to say at all
Someone once said
- perhaps it was Athol Gill
I can't remember -
that any theology that can't be preached
in the presence of parents grieving over their slaughtered children
isn't worth preaching anywhere else either

But in the midst of the carnage and shock and horror
what can we say?
There are no words
The lovely lines of peace on earth and goodwill to all
sound impossibly trite and hollow

And worse still
we are afraid to even speak the name of God
aren't we?
For inside there is a horrible question
that we dare not face
that we don't know what to do with
It is not just that our faith seems to lack adequate words of comfort
It is that our faith is not sure that God is not to blame

What did our psalm say just a few minutes ago?
Our words of sacred scripture?
God sends the snow and frost and hail
God speaks, the ice melts
God breathes, the waters flow
That's what it said

And if we believe that
If we believe that that is not just poetic hyperbole
but fundamental doctrine
If we believe that God directs the weather
that God speaks and the earth shudders
that God can calm the waves with a word
then can we escape the awful conclusion
that the tsunami is God's doing?

And what did John say in our gospel reading?
All things came into being through him
and without him, not one thing came into being
The tsunami?
Through him?

Those who shake their fists at heaven
and say that either there is no God
or that God is a callous tyrant
have got irrefutable evidence on their side this week
Perhaps every week
Even if God didn't directly make the tsunami
doesn't God have to accept responsibility
for creating the things that create tsunami?
Or is God somehow exempt from manufacturer's liability questions?

Let us not speak too hastily in defence of God
lest we be guilty of simply trying to prop up our own shaky faith
and silence the doubts and fears that lurk within all of us
Let us allow God to speak for himself

Another preacher rang me up on Thursday
he needed to know that he wasn't the only one
with a head full of horror
wondering how to preach the gospel this week
It's lonely, he said,
being the one who has to find words to say
Impossibly daunting too
bearing the responsibility of preaching the gospel
in a week when the news of the world
seems to make a mockery of it
It struck me that we preachers should probably feel like that every week
charged with the responsibility to speak the word of God
to a desperate people
in a world that seems always capable
of proving our every word a lie

So my friend and I are stuck
As much as we might want to flee the wave of fear and uncertainty
that threatens to uproot us
and suck the life out of our faith
we have been called to preach the faith of the Church
in season and out of season
and preach it we must
So I cannot hide behind my own advise
to let God speak for himself
because when God speaks for himself
I am one of the ones God has called
to interpret to you the word God speaks

And at times like this
such a responsibility can feel a bit like some of those awful pictures
I can feel a bit like the man wading through the chaos
with his beloved child cradled in his arms
limp and lifeless
Here is the gospel
the faith of the Church
Is there life in it yet?
Or has it drowned in the angry wave of awful reality?
I'm not sure
but dead or alive I still love this child

I can't speak to you as one who has the answers
Like you I am looking for signs of life
amidst the chaos and devastation
But I can and must speak as one called by God
to interpret what God says in the face of all this
So what does God have to say?
What word am I to interpret?

There is a Word from God
And the Word became flesh
The Word became flesh and cast in his lot with us

Why do we call Jesus "the Word"?
We call him the Word because he is what God has to say
What God has to say is made flesh in the Word
All that God has to say is made flesh in the Word
What God has to say in the face of unspeakable suffering
is made flesh in the Word

There are all too many other words spoken about God
Everyone has an opinion
Some will say that God is absent, dead or doesn't care
Some will say that God is all-powerful
that nothing happens except at God's say-so
and that yes, tsunamis only happen if God wills them to
Some will say that the tsunami is God's judgment
words words words
there are no end of words about God
But what does God have to say?

God, are you all-powerful?
God, do you care?
The Word becomes flesh
God, did you make the tsunami?
The Word becomes flesh
God, where are you?
The Word becomes flesh

Of course there is always a temptation
to try to repackage the Word
to make it say what we wish it would say
We want a messiah who will protect us from every danger
and we can find words about God that will say that
We want a messiah who can calm the waves before they get us
and we can find a story of Jesus doing that
We want a messiah who will ride in triumphant
like the cavalry at the last minute
and vanquish all that would harm us
and bring us singing and weeping tears of joy
to the victory banquet
Our reading from Jeremiah speaks with such words
But if we make the words say whatever we want
we may miss the Word that God speaks altogether
the Word that takes flesh

Because God has spoken a Word
and it hasn't charged in like the cavalry
God has spoken a Word and it did make the world shudder
The Word became flesh
and the world shuddered
and a great wave of hostility and selfishness and bitterness rose up
and flung itself against the Word
devastating all in its path
killing even children in its rage
snarling, surging, seething, smashing
a great wave of darkness
furiously seeking to annihilate the light

And where was God as the wave hit?
Wasn't God right there bearing the brunt of it
Wasn't God there clinging to his beloved child
only to be overwhelmed by the wave
and have the child ripped from his arms
and torn away on that surging flood of hatred
and battered and smashed and pierced
and tossed limp and lifeless to the earth

As a father
I've been tormented by those images this week
Imagining myself trying to protect my child
as the wave hit
desperately clinging to her with every ounce of strength
only to feel her ripped from my arms
and torn away in the surging blackness
and then later hunting for her
in the chaos and ruins
checking body after body
desperately hoping that none of them are her
that somehow she will have been washed to safety
and then finding her crumpled and lifeless
and blindly carrying her limp body
looking for someone who could help
but knowing in the hollow depths of my guts
that nothing can help
and seeing in the eyes of everyone who passes
that to all but me she is just one more
of a hundred thousand corpses

It took three days of news footage before it really got to me
It finally broke me when I saw footage
of a mother in Australia
who had just got news that her daughter
who she thought had been lost
was safe
and she wept tears of joy and relief
and it struck me
that everyone of those hundred thousand corpses
represented a real person
over whom there would be no such tears of joy and relief
and I wanted to hold my daughter close and cry
but I couldn't
because ironically she was at the beach with her mother
so I broke down
and sobbed alone

Do I have any idea what it would really feel like?
I doubt it
It was bad enough just imagining it
I don't know how I'd cope if it was real
I certainly wouldn't want to be hearing any comfortable cliches
like all things working together for good
or they've gone to a better place

I doubt whether I have any idea what it would really feel like
but I reckon God does
because when we cried out for answers
for explanations
for deliverance
God spoke a Word
and the Word became flesh
as a beloved child
and the child was torn from the Father's arms
by a ruthless wave
and the waters of death closed over him
and spat him out as just another
of the hundreds and thousands and millions
of unnamed innocent victims
down through the ages

I reckon God knows
And I reckon that as hard as we might find it
to talk about flesh
while the nameless flesh of countless corpses
are necessarily treated as little more
than a threat to public health
and piled into mass graves
God is still not afraid to be identified as flesh
fragile flesh
brutalised flesh
limp and lifeless flesh

Because the promise of Christmas
is not just that the Word became cute and chubby baby flesh
but that the Word became flesh
and cast in his lot with us
hunted flesh
despised flesh
tortured flesh
dead and buried flesh
three days dead flesh stinking and a threat to public health

And although our story of the Word made flesh
does not stop with dead and buried
we will not really understand the rest of the story
if we think of resurrection as just some kind of miracle cure
which means that death is no longer part of Christ's reality
In the book of Revelation we see the vision
of the risen one on the throne
who still looks like one mortally wounded
The risen one is still the crucified one
The rising one is still the being-crucified one
The people who say all crosses must now be empty are wrong
because the risen Christ is still
the suffering and dying Christ
The risen Christ who promised we would meet him
in the least of these desperate and vulnerable ones
can be seen lying dead in the mud in Khao Lak and Meuloboh
The Word became flesh

If you want to see what God has to say in the face of this
go walk among the ruins of Banda Aceh
or just turn on your TV
for God is speaking
and the Word has become flesh

Perhaps as we begin to see what God is saying
we will begin to comprehend how blasphemous
so much of what we blithely say about God really is
and how chillingly we treat powerful and dangerous realities
and casual and comfortable little things

Perhaps when water is flung at us in a few minutes
to remind us of our identity
as those who have been buried
in the deep waters of death with Christ
perhaps this week we'll have
a little more sense of what a serious matter it is
to go under the deep waters of death

Perhaps when we hold out our empty hands
to receive the piece of bread we will be offered shortly
we will recognise something of our solidarity
with desperate hungry people
holding out empty hands
for the food aid the world is trying to muster
And perhaps we will see in those images
of the Father holding the limp body of his dead child
the image of the Father who spoke the Word that becomes flesh
and whose grief and suffering take flesh still
in body and blood
offered for the life of the world
and placed into our empty hands
that we might live
even in the face of death

And perhaps when we have heard that Christmas story
the story of God speaking a Word
which becomes human flesh
and falls victim to the full force
of the waves of horror that assail the earth and its inhabitants,
a Word which continues to take flesh
in all the suffering and grief and desperation
perhaps then we will be capable
of hearing the story of resurrection
and recognising that our songs of endless bliss
and our promises of sorrow turned into joy
are reduced to pious platitudes if they are not seen
in their contexts of unspeakable fear, death and anguish

I pray that we
and I
might have the courage and compassion
to recognise the Word that God speaks this week
and follow where the Word calls
into the places that terrify and horrify us
the places where we will know what it means
to cry out for salvation
the places
perhaps the only places
where we are capable of knowing
the Word of resurrection
the Word made flesh
the Christ born of Mary


Monday, December 27, 2004

The Incarnation, by St. John of the Cross

Now that the time had come
when it would be good
to ransom the bride
serving under the hard yoke

of that law
which Moses had given her,
the Father, with tender love,
spoke in this way:

Now You see, Son, that Your bride
was made in your image,
and so far as she is like You
she will suit You well;

yet she is different, in her flesh,
which Your simple being does not have.

In perfect love
this law holds:

that the lover become
like the one he loves;
for the greater their likeness,
the greater their delight.

Surely Your bride's delight
would greatly increase
were she to see You like her,
in her own flesh.

My will is Yours,
the Son replied,
and My glory is
that Your will be Mine.

This is fitting, Father,
what You, the Most High, say;
for in this way
Your goodness will be the more seen.

Your great power will be seen,
and Your justice and wisdom.
I will go and tell the world,
spreading the word
of Your beauty and sweetness,
and of Your sovereignty.

I will go seek My bride
and take upon Myself
her weariness and labors
in which she suffers so;

and that she may have life
I will die for her,
and, lifting her out of that deep,
I will restore her to You. ....

When the time had come
for Him to be born
He went forth like the bridegroom
from his bridal chamber,

embracing His bride,
holding her in His arms,
Whom the gracious Mother
laid in a manger

among some animals
that were there at that time.
Men sang songs
and angels melodies

celebrating the marriage
of Two such as these.
But God there in the manger
cried and moaned;

and those tears were jewels
the bride brought to the wedding.
The Mother gazed in sheer wonder
on such an exchange:

In God, man's weeping,
and in man, gladness;
to the one and the other
things usually so strange.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

A New Place for the info every Prayer Warrior needs

St. Blog's Prayer Network is online for the posting of the prayer requests of our little cyberparish. Please give it a visit soon, then often, and come together to make it a success. Since I have benefitted so greatly and often from the prayers of others, it's the least I can do!

St. Gregory Nazianzen's Sermon on the Birthday of Christ

via This is Life!: Revolutions Around the Cruciform Axis

"Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is. of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope. Christ of a Virgin; O you Matrons live as Virgins, that you may be Mothers of Christ. Who does not worship Him That is from the beginning? Who does, not glorify Him That is the Last?"

Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar. The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the Great Light of full knowledge. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new. The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee away, the Truth comes in upon them. The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him. O clap your hands together all you people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, Whose government is upon His shoulder (for with the Cross it is raised up), and His name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Prepare the way of the Lord: I too will cry the power of this day. He Who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride; let heretics talk till their tongues ache. Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge.

Of these on a future occasion; for the present the Festival is the Theophany or Birthday, for it is called both, two titles being given to the one thing. For God was manifested to man by birth. On the one hand Being, and eternally Being, of the Eternal Being, above cause and word, for there was not word before The Word; and on the other hand for our sakes also Becoming, that He Who gives us our being might also give us our Well-being, or rather might restore us by His Incarnation, when we had by wickedness fallen from well-being. The name Theophany is given to it in reference to the Manifestation, and that of Birthday in respect of His Birth.
Celebrating the birthday of Christ

This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God -that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master's; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.

And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches; nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, not enchant the ear with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, not prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin; let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness, nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of colour, belying the beauty of nature, and invented to do despite unto the image of God. Not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled, I know well, chambering and wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil. Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the kickshaws of cooks, the great expense of unguents; and let us not strive to outdo each other in temperance, and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner.

Let us leave all these to the Greeks and to the pomp and festivals of the Greeks. But we, the object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories; especially such as are the origin of this Feast; that our luxury may be akin to and not far remove from Him Who has called us together. Or do you desire (for today I am your entertainer) that I should set before you, my good guests, the story of these things as abundantly and as nobly as I can, that you may know how a foreigner can feed the natives of the land, and a rustic the people of the town, and one who cares not for luxury those who delight in it, and one who is poor and homeless those who are eminent for wealth?

We will begin from this point; and let me ask of you who delight in such matters to cleanse your mind and your ears and your thoughts, since our discourse is to be of God and Divine; that when you depart, you may fade not away. And this same discourse shall be at once both very full and very concise, that you may neither be displeased at its deficiencies, nor find it unpleasant through wearisomeness.
The Divine nature of God

God always was, and always is, and always will be. Or rather, God always is. For was and will be are fragments of our time, and of changeable nature, but He is Eternal Being.

And this is the Name that He gives to Himself when giving the Oracle to Moses in the Mount. For in Himself He sums up and contains all Being, having neither beginning in the past nor end in the future; like some great Sea of Being, limitless and unbounded, transcending all conception of time and nature', only adumbrated by the mind, and that very dimly and scantily . . . not by His Essentials, but by His Environment; one image being gotten from one source and another from another, and combined into some sort of presentation of the truth, which escapes us before we have caught it, and takes to flight before we have conceived it, blazing forth upon our Master-part, even when that is cleansed, as the lighting flash which will not stay its course, does upon our sight . . . in order as I conceive by that part of it which we can comprehend to draw us to itself (for that which is altogether incomprehensible is outside the bounds of hope, an not within the compass of endeavour), and by that part of it which we cannot comprehend to move our wonder, to, become more an object of desire, and being desired to purify, and by purifying to make us like God.

The Divine Nature then is boundless and hard to understand; and all that we can comprehend of Him is His boundlessness; even though one may conceive that because He is of a simple nature He is therefore either wholly incomprehensible, or perfectly comprehensible. And when drawing a conclusion from the whole it calls Him Eternal. For Eternity is neither time nor part of time; for it cannot be measured. But what time, measured by the course of the sun, is to us, that Eternity is to the Everlasting, namely, a sort of time-like movement and interval co-existence with their existence. This, however, is all I must not say about God; as my present subject is of the Incarnation. But when I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This then is the Holy of Holies, which is hidden even from the Seraphim, and is glorified with a thrice repeated Holy, meeting in one ascription of the Title Lord and God.

When His first creation was in good order, He conceives a second world, material and visible; and this a system and compound of earth and sky, and all that is in the midst of them an admirable creation indeed, when we look at the fair form of every part, but yet more worthy of admiration when we consider the harmony and the unison of the whole, and how each part fits in with every other, in fair order, and all with the whole, tending to the perfect completion of the world as a Unit. This was to show that He could call into being, not only a Nature akin to Himself, but also one altogether alien to Himself. For akin to Deity are those natures which are intellectual, and only to be comprehended by mind. Perhaps some one who is too festive and impetuous may say, What has all this to do with us? Talk to us about the Festival [the Birth of Christ], and the reasons for our being here today. Yes, this is what I am about to do, although I have begun at a somewhat previous point, being compelled to do so by love, and by the needs of my argument.
The fashioning of man

Mind, then, and sense, thus distinguished from each other, had remained within their own boundaries, and bore in themselves the magnificence of the Creator-Word, silent praisers and thrilling heralds of His mighty work. Not yet were the whole riches of Goodness made known. Now the Creator-Word, determine to exhibit this, and to produce a single living being out of both - the visible and the invisible creations, I mean - fashions Man; and taking a body from already existing matter, and placing in it a breath taken from Himself which - the Word knew to be an intelligent soul and the Image of God, as a sort of second world. He placed him, great in littleness on the earth; a new Angel, mingled worship- per, fully initiated into the visible creation, but only partially into the intellectual; king of all upon the earth, but subject to the King above; earthly and heavenly; temporal and yet immortal; visible and yet intellectual; half-way between greatness and lowliness; in one person combining spirit and flesh; spirit, because of the favour bestowed on him; flesh, because of the height to which he had been raised; one that he might continue to live and praise his Benefactor, the other that he might suffer, and by suffering be put in remembrance, and corrected if he became proud of his greatness. For to this, I think, tends that Light of Truth which we here possess but in measure, that we should both see and experience the Splendour of God, which is worthy of Him Who made us. and wilt remake us again after a loftier fashion.

This being (man) He placed in Paradise, having honoured him with the gift of free will (in order that God might belong to him as the result of choice); naked in his simplicity. Also He gave him a law, as a material for his Free Will to act upon. This Law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the Tree of Knowledge. But when the Devil's malice and the woman's caprice, to which she succumbed as the more tender, brought to bear on the man, he forgot the commandment which had been given him, he yielded; and for his sin he was banished, at once from the Tree of Life, and from Paradise. Yet here too he makes a gain, namely death, and the cutting off of sin, in order that evil may not be immortal. Thus punishment is changed into a mercy; for it is in mercy, I am persuaded, that God inflicts punishment.

And having been first chastened by many reasons (because his sins were many), by word, by law, by prophets, by benefits, by threats, by plagues, by waters, by fires, by wars, by victories, by defeats, by signs in heaven and signs in the air and in the earth and in the sea, by unexpected changes of men, of cities, of nations, at last he needed a stronger remedy, for his diseases were growing worse; mutual slaughters, adulteries, perjuries, unnatural crimes, and that first and last of all evils, idolatry and the transfer of Worship from the Creator to the creatures. As these required a greater aid, also they obtain a greater.
The Word Himself

And that was that the Word of God Himself - Who is before all worlds, the Invisible, the Beginning, the Light of Light, the Source of Life and Immortality, the Image of the Archetypal Beauty, the immoveable Seal, the unchangeable Image, the Father's Definition and Word, came to His own Image, and took on Him flesh for the sake of our flesh, and mingled Himself with an intelligent soul for my soul's sake, purifying like by like; and in all points except sin was made man. Conceived by the Virgin, who first in body and soul was purified by the Holy Spirit (for it was needful both that childbearing should be honoured, and that virginity should receive a higher honour, He (Christ) came forth then as God with that which He had assumed, One Person in two Natures, Flesh and Spirit, of which the latter defied the former.

O new commingling; O strange conjunction; the Self Existent comes into being, the Uncreated is created, that which cannot be contained is contained, by the intervention of an intellectual soul, mediating between the Deity and the corporeity of the flesh. And He Who give riches becomes poor, for He assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the richness of His Godhead. He that is in full empties Himself, for He empties Himself of His glory for a short while, that I may have a share in His fullness. What is the riches of His Goodness? What is this mystery that is around me? I had a share in the image; I did not keep it; He partakes of my flesh that He may both save the image and make the flesh immortal. This is more godlike than the former action, this is loftier in the eyes of all men of understanding.

To this what have those cavillers to say, those bitter reasoners about the Godhead, those detractors of all that is praiseworthy, those darkeners of light, uncultured in respect of wisdom, for whom Christ died in vain, those unthankful creatures, the work of the Evil One? Do you turn this benefit into a reproach to God? Will you deem Him little on this account, that He humbled Himself for you; because the God Shepherd, He who lays down His life for His sheep, came to seek for that which had strayed upon the mountains and the hills, on which you was then sacrificing, and found the wanderer; and having found it, took it upon His shoulders on which He also took the Wood of the Cross; and having taken it, brought it back to the higher life; and having carried it back, numbered it among those who have never strayed. Because He lighted a candle - His own Flesh - and swept the house, cleansing the world from sin. And He calls together His Angel friends on the findings of the coin, and makes them sharers in His joy, whom He had made to share also the secret of the Incarnation?

He (Christ) was sent, but as man, for He was of a twofold Nature; for He was wearied, and hungered, and was thirsty, and was in an agony, and shed tears, according to the nature of a corporeal being. And if the expression be also used of Him as God, the meaning is that the Father's good pleasure is to be considered a Mission, for to this He refers all that concerns Himself; both that He may honour the Eternal Principle, and because He will not be taken to be an antagonistic God. And whereas it is written both that He was betrayed, and also that He gave Himself up and that He was raised up by the Father, and taken up into heaven; and on the other hand, that He raised Himself and went up. Are you then to be allowed to dwell upon all that humiliates Him, while passing over all that exalts Him, and to count on your side the fact that He suffered, but to leave out of the account the fact that it was of His own will? See what even now the Word has to suffer. By one set He is honoured as God, but is confused with the Father, by another He is dishonoured as mere flesh and severed from the Godhead. With which of them will He be most angry, or rather, which shall He forgive, those who injuriously confound Him or those who divide Him? For the former ought to have distinguished, and the latter to have united Him; the one in number, the other in Godhead. Do you disbelieve in His Godhead? This did not even the demons, O you who are less believing than demons and more stupid than Jews.

A little later on you will see Jesus submitting to be purified in the River Jordan for my Purification, or rather, sanctifying the waters by His Purification (for indeed His had no need of purification Who takes away the sin of the world) and the heavens cleft asunder, and witness borne to him by the Spirit that is of one nature with Him; you shall see Him tempted and conquering and served by Angels, and healing every sickness and every disease, and giving life to the dead (O that He would give life to you who are dead because of your heresy), and driving out demons, sometimes Himself, sometimes by his disciples; and feeding vast multitudes with a few loaves; and walking dryshod upon seas; and being betrayed and crucified, and crucifying with Himself my sin; offered as a Lamb, and offering as a Priest; as a Man buried in the grave, and as God rising again; and then ascending, and to come again in His own glory. Why what a multitude of high festivals there are in each of the mysteries of the Christ; all of which have one completion, namely, my perfection and return to the first condition of Adam.
Christ's Conception

Now then I pray you accept His Conception, and leap before Him; if not like John from the womb, yet like David, because of the resting of the Ark. Revere the enrolment of account of which you were written in heaven, and adore the Birth by which you were loosed from the chains of your birth, and honour little Bethlehem, which has led you back to Paradise; and worship the manger through which you, being without sense, was fed by the Word . . . If you are one of those who are as yet unclean and uneatable and unfit for sacrifice, and of the gentile portion, run with the Star, and bear your Gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a King, and to God, and to One Who is dead for you. With Shepherds glorify Him; with Angels join in chorus; with Archangels sing hymns. Let this Festival be common to the powers in heaven and to the powers upon earth. For I am persuaded that the Heavenly Hosts join in our exultation and keep high Festival with us today . . . because they love men, and they love God ... just like those whom David introduces after the Passion ascending with Christ and coming to meet Him, and bidding one another to lift up the gates.

One thing connected with the Birth of Christ I would have you hate ... the murder of the infants by Herod. Or rather you must venerate this too, the Sacrifice of the same age as Christ, slain before the Offering of the New Victim. If He flees into Egypt, joyfully become a companion of His exile. It is a grand thing to share the exile of the persecuted Christ. If He tarry long in Egypt, call Him out of Egypt by a reverent worship of Him there. Travel without fault through every stage and faculty of the Life of Christ. Be purified; be circumcised; strip off the veil which has covered you from your birth.

After this teach in the Temple, and drive out the sacrilegious traders. Submit to be stoned if need be, for well I want you shall be hidden from those who cast the stones; you shall escape even through the midst of them, like God. If you be scourged, ask for what they leave out. Taste gall for the taste's sake; drink vinegar; accept blows, be crowned with thorns, that is, with the hardness of the godly life; put on the purple robe, take the reed in hand, and receive mock worship from those who mock at the truth; lastly, be crucified with Him, and share His Death and Burial gladly, that you may rise with Him, and be glorified with Him and reign with Him. Look at and be looked at by the Great God, Who in Trinity is worshipped and glorified, and Whom we declare to be now set forth as clearly before you as the chains of our flesh allow, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be the glory for ever. Amen.


Friday, December 24, 2004

Archbishop Romero on Christmas

In celebrating Christmas, many Christians do exactly the opposite of what the earliest Christians did. By celebrating Christmas, they succeeded in bringing Christ into the pagan feast of the sun. Today’s Christians’ neopaganism is managing to paganize Christmas.

Jesus was not born on December 25 exactly. The Christian liturgy chose that date in order to give a Christian meaning to the Roman feast of the unvanquished sun. The pagans of the Roman Empire celebrated the sun’s rebirth during the longest night of the year. That midnight was considered as the starting point of the sun’s march, which then began to overcome the darkness. It was easy for the Christians to substitute Jesus Christ for the sun and to make the birth of Christ, Sun of Justice, coincide liturgically with the pagan celebration of the birth of the sun. The centuries that followed have proved the church’s genius, for bit by bit the meaning of Christmas pushed into oblivion the jovial pagan celebration and filled the entire world with the joy of the Redeemer’s birth. Today even unbelievers sense that something divine entered history during that night without compare. We all feel that the child born that night is a child of our family, and that the brightness of God’s glory that the angels carol makes ofthat night the loveliest day, a day when God himself offers us his peace and invites us to be men and women of good will.

What a shame that all of that Christian inspiration with which our liturgy christened a pagan festival has been betrayed by many Christians, who today surrender that spiritual conquest to paganism. To make the values of commerce and of worldly gaiety prevail over the gospel meaning of Christmas is nothing short of a cowardly surrender on the part of Christians.

A return to the spirituality of a genuine Christmas will be a noble gesture of solidarity with Christianity’s spiritual victories in the world. A celebration of Christ’s birth with a sense of adoration, love, and gratitude toward the God who loved us even to the folly of giving us his own Son, will be to arrange our life so that the peace that only God can give may brighten it like a sun.

[+Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, December 15, 1978]

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Sweet Liberation!

After two weeks at Columbia-St. Mary's and five weeks in Select Specialty Hospital, I was discharged to Home Sweet Anchor Hold yesterday afternoon. The pneumonia and the cellulitis are gone, the football-sized boil on my leg has been surgeried away and the incision is healing nicely, all stitches out, and every single little MRSA bug is dead, dead, dead! (Vancomycin is wonderful stuff!) However, I am now officially diabetic. Insulin and all......

Expect slow posting for a week or so through the holidays as I clean up 7 weeks' backed-up email and learn how to live the new diabetic life style. (food becoming medicine, extremely planned living, lancets and needles, etc.)

While incarcerated, I did manage to make eight quarts of rosaries.......