This Changes Everything

OEmmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

JMJ

ONE AND DONE CONVERSIONS are a dime a dozen. There’s a kind of change and an emotional rush and then things go on as they never did before. Or at least so we are told in fairy tales end conversion movies. The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. Scrooge kept Christmas the best of any man in London. A kiss from Prince Charming wakes the princess and they live happily ever after. Electing this one politician will solve all your problems. Conversions in the Bible, however, are often more problematic. David stumbles all through his reign, Peter denies Christ, Abraham struggles with God’s promises (what was that bit about Hagar if not a loss of faith?), the Jonah runs away, Moses says “Just kill me now”. These stories are more real – because we know that as human beings “one and done” is not a thing. Today’s feast of the Conversion of St Paul is no different.

Today, St Paul realizes his mistake, but it takes years for him to apply the realization. Certainly, he takes it seriously but he doesn’t quite realize the fullness of the implications. He goes away to learn, to pray, and to meditate. Yet even when he comes back he is still struggling. Biblical Scholars who attempt to put the letters of the Apostle into what they believe is a chronological order can discern theological development on several topics. This is not a bad thing for there is no change there is only evolution. Paul struggles with his brothers and sisters in Christ – even fighting with Peter. And famously there is The Thorn in the Flesh.

Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (AV)

GOD WITH US: what can that mean? How can the infinite be with us? How can there even be a God – as most folks understand that word – and him be “with us”? Nietzsche rightly point out that having a God With Us means that he can die. He goes on to suggest there for God is dead and that Christians killed him by insisting he enter history. What is this God With Us stuff?

I mentioned in the last post that your very being is a sign that God loves you: you would not exist without that love. I also mentioned the heart or soul, the core of your being. This is actually where God lives in you: the wholy Holy Trinity, living in you, sustaining your being. You cannot be without this. God is with you, like it or not. But that’s not what “Emmanuel” means here. Or is it? In the East, at Compline before the Nativity, the Choir sings “God is with us! Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves. God is with us!” That sounds rather martial until you realize that “understand and submit” is the primary action of faith. The act of belief to which we are called is not merely a doctrinal affirmation. The creed is not a checklist of things: it is descriptive of reality. We commit to a lifetime of growth in “understanding” and ever more deeply “submitting” to this reality in which we find ourselves where “God is with us.” God with us has ever a new meaning:

If God’s first sign of love is our being, what can we say about the world around us, which clearly shares in beingness? Yes, God is present there – albeit in a different order. Only humanity shares fully in the image and likeness, but angels and rocks, seraphim and dolphins, Brother Sun and Sister Moon, everything that lives and moves and has its being in God. All that is is grace. God is with us. It was this way in the Garden and we lost it – or more rightly gave it up.

So then something new had to happen. And it did and God is with us has a new meaning: a Baby. One of us. The God who slobbers. The God who forgets eternity and nurses on his mother’s breast. The God who loves us so much that he poured out all of infinity and became a cell, then two, then four, then eight. How can he love us so much? This is God with us. And acne, and changing voices, and hormones. Neighborhood bullies who won’t let him forget that his mother was pregnant too early. Soldiers that won’t let him forget he’s only a Jew. Traveling Romans who won’t let him forget he’s a hick and the son of a tradesman and that he smells like fish.

God. Wiping his butt with his hand. God with us.

We killed him. And so a new thing had to happen. And it did and God is with us has a new meaning: our daily bread. If this seems like a RETVRN (as the cool kids say) to the way it was in the garden, it is. The very stuff of Creation, the work of human hands, is God. God everywhere and here, walking with us in the shard of the evening or sitting down with us to a nice Sunday brunch.

Now think it through: God, the infinite, eternal, and radiant IS, can enter time, space, and darkness. Yet he is still infinite, eternal, and light himself. He is truth, life, the way, and yet he dies and we consume him. The smallest part of infinity is still infinity though: God is with us and what we are what we eat.

Take, eat. Understand and submit yourself for God is with us! Merry Christmas!

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.