O Virgin

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

JMJ

Sarum Use (the ancient liturgical of the Cathedral of Salisbury) has one extra Great O Antiphon, assigned to the Blessed Virgin. For this reason, while Catholics begin with O Sapientia on the 17th, Anglicans have, quite often, began on the 16th, so that O Virgo could be sung on the 23rd. This practice has fallen out of favour recently. The official C of E office book, Daily Prayer, follows the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. I have always liked the O Virgo and prefer to use it at least for this annual series of posts.

There are other O Antiphons as well. The Catholic Encylopedia notes:

but other medieval Breviaries added (1) “O virgo virginum quomodo fiet” etc., still retained in the Roman Breviary as the proper antiphon to the Magnificat in the second Vespers of the feast Expectatio Partus B. M. V. (18 December), the prayer of this feast being followed by the antiphon “O Adonai” as a commemoration of the ferial office of 18 December; (2) “O Gabriel, nuntius cœlorum”, subsequently replaced, almost universally, by the thirteenth-century antiphon, “O Thoma Didyme”, for the feast of the Apostle St. Thomas (21 December). Some medieval churches had twelve greater antiphons, adding to the above (1) “O Rex Pacifice”, (2) “O Mundi Domina”, (3) “O Hierusalem”, addressed respectively to Our Lord, Our Lady, and Jerusalem. Guéranger gives the Latin text of all of these (except the “O Mundi Domina”), with vernacular prose translation (“Liturgical Year”, Advent, Dublin, 1870, 508-531), besides much devotional and some historical comment. The Parisian Rite added two antiphons (“O sancte sanctorum” and “O pastor Israel”) to the seven of the Roman Rite and began the recitation of the nine on the 15th of December.

Catholics are often accused of worshipping Mary as a Goddess. I get the reasoning, even though I disagree. There is nothing said about Mary (other than naming her Mother of God) that cannot be said in a way about all Christians. Her role is special, though, in that she bore the graces of the faith by God’s grace alone, rather than through sacramental participation in Christ.

If mankind is seen as fallen (and what needs to be forgotten to not see that?) then Mary’s sinless status must be seen as a restoration of her – along – to that state humanity enjoyed before the Fall. We cannot imagine what all that entails! Unbroken communion with God and a full and total detachment from the things of this world, from all venial and mortal sins; from undue attachment to anything that would destroy her Communion. She lives in this intimacy constantly and, although it doesn’t make her a Goddess, it does elevate her far beyond the status of daily mundanity. Her prayers are efficacious because of her relationship with her son, and because of this constant communion.

For God’s incarnation among us, the Earth offers a cave, the animals their stall, the angels their song, but humanity offers the Blessed and All-Pure Virgin. The titles awarded to Mary by the Church (East and West) are without number. She is the finest offering of our humanity to God. And yet her humility is endless for she knows that even so she is only worthy by God’s grace, only able by his strength, to do what must be done.

We are not to marvel at her. Everything Mary does points to God. Her Immaculate Conception is the grace of Baptism. Her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit (and again at Pentecost) is the Confirmation which we all enjoy. Her burial and assumption is the same death we will all undergo, her coronation is the promise of our eternal glory. Her intercession is the grace of prayer in which we all participate. Even her virginal conception is echoed in our participation in the Holy Mass and the reception of the Sacred Mysteries which bring infinity into us, making us – like her – to be “more spacious than the heavens.” This is “a divine mystery”. She begs us not to marvel at her but at God’s grace in her life and in ours.

This is the position of the Christian before God: to accept even a final “well down” as underserved save by God’s grace for without him we can do nothing; but with him all things are possible. Nothing we do should point to us but rather to God’s grace active in our lives.

The manger, the cross, the grave, and the tomb, these are the signposts that bring us all through our lives to God. Mary walks with us – prays with us – along this same way, but she has already walked it. God, her son, knows this way intimately.

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

JMJ

Have you ever heard of a pamphlet called The Four Spiritual Laws? I think it was written in 1965 by the folks at Campus Crusade for Christ (which is now, evidently, just called “Cru“) and it is still one of the most popular tools of “Street Evangelism”. It lists the four most-basic premises of the Christian Message:

  1. God loves us
  2. We’re a mess
  3. God sent us Jesus
  4. We’re supposed to do something in response

Although it’s boiled down so much as to be meaningless, it has brought thousands (if not millions) of folks into the discussion about Jesus. I think the steps are correct as far as they go: there’s at least a year of teaching that can go into each point. The Church’s 2,000-year history would agree with each point and could weave a tale as long as the 2,000 years and longer to tell the four stories and after you have spent all 8,000 years hearing the stories, you’d still only be walking along the periphery.

The real story of the Gospel is that deep: you dive in and it just keeps going. That’s why today’s verse is so very important. God With Us. See: God is evangelizing us.

This babe in a manger, this infant on his mother’s lap, this child needs to have his diapers changed, and feeds at his mother’s breast is the Lord and Creator of the Universe who has come to be one of us that we may go to be with him. God has become man that man might become God.

In the ancient understanding of the economy of salvation, all of humanity fell in Adam and Eve’s failure in the garden. It’s not a question of culpability: but of simple, spiritual genetics. Our parents cannot pass on to us anything that they are not. They cannot pass on to us the intimate connection with God which they had before the fall because they no longer enjoy that. We cannot “recover” it since we never had it. We wouldn’t know it if it bit us in the backside, as the saying goes.

But God has entered into human history, a slob like one of us, trying to make his way home. And it’s not that he had to do this to understand us, but rather, so we could understand him.

The titles offered to Jesus in this verse all belong to Caesar: God, King, Lawgiver, Savior, Lord. The Church sees in this baby all the things that Augustus (along with Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, etc) wanted the world to see in him. And we should rightly acclaim him as such. But God with us means so much more: for what we have is a God who is like us in every way except sin.

That does not mean that God knows what it feels like to [fill in the blank] because feeling is not important. And someone might be happy at [fill in the blank] or have any other number of emotions. What it does mean is that anything a human does (save sin), God has done. These acts become divine actions, sacraments in which we can participate. God has fed at his mother’s breast. God has cried in the night and woke up his parents. God has been alone in the dark. God has woke up from nightmares. God had favorite foods (and was probably convinced that his own mother’s hummus was better than anyone else’s). God has gone to the bathroom, and as a toddler probably did that right on the street. This God has gone swimming with friends.

Bo Bartlett’s Laughing Christ

This God has washed dishes for his mother. This God has helped his father at work. This God has learned a trade. This God has said his prayers. When we do these things, we are following in God’s footsteps. We can – if we wish – do each of these things and so many more in memory of him.

God did not need to do any of these things to give him sympathy for us. If that were the case, then God failed, for does he know what it’s like to work on the internet or to have indoor plumbing? No. Does he know what it’s like to be a woman? Or an ethnic minority? No. So if it were a case of simply a God who understands us he no longer does. God redrew the map: so that each of these human actions is sacramentalized in his doing of them. God has even shown us that resisting temptation leads us to holiness.

God does not need to learn about us: rather, we need to learn about him. And God-with-us has made that very easy indeed. He has drawn us into the discussion. God has evangelized us.

O King

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

JMJ

Making both one? Walk back through the O Antiphons. They tell a story of division and union.

  • Wisdom is sought in the first one just so we can understand what’s happening. But the Sophia of the Wisdom tradition is through all the world dispersed. Wisdom rules the whole world equally.
  • Adonai is invoked next. He’s the Lord of Israel and the giver of the Law. The Lord does not rule the whole world.
  • Root of Jesse is a sign that one family has been selected out of the whole world to do this. World > Israel > Judah > Jesse > David > Joseph & Mary > Jesus.
  • Key of David is the way Jesus unlocks the hidden meanings of the scriptures, so that even Gentiles might, by the light of his wisdom, read their story there.
  • Dayspring is the way Jesus unlocks the hidden meanings of nature, the first Bible and common to all. As Divine Wisdom has ordered all things sweetly, suddenly we see that it all points to Jesus.
  • King is Jesus uniting all these worlds: the Jew and Gentile, the Scriptural and the Natural, the particularity of one man and the universality of the whole world. But more: Jesus unites humanity to Godhead in his person. The great divisions are destroyed.

In short, the Christian claim is that it’s only ever been all about Jesus. It’s always been about the center point of all history, of all time, of all space. All that is true must point to Jesus: all that is untrue can only point away.

All divisions cease, there is no us and them: there is only God who is all in all.

O Dawn

O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

And why not? We sing this verse at Vespers on the 20th (in Anglican tradition) or on the 21st (in Roman Catholic and Western Rite Orthodoxy). So it comes either side of the “longest night”, which can fit both the night of the 20th-21st as well as the 21st-22nd. The solstice traditionally being marked on the 21st at sunrise in the cultures of the European North. What has any of that to do with us? It’s totally incorrect to say that “Christmas was a pagan holiday that Constantine’s Church stole. There are a LOT of articles out there about this, but my favorite, and the oldest, I think, is by an old friend of this blog (in a previous incarnation), Dr William Tighe: Calculating Christmas lays out all the reasons that 25 December was not “stolen” and, quite possibly, is Jesus’ actual birthday.

And why not?

I believe Jesus is not only God incarnate but the entire reason for the universe, the sum total of all history and the omega point from which all other events are only typological shadows. The Incarnation was not “Plan B” after a surprising mistake in the garden. God is all-knowing: the fall was expected, the need for salvation understood, and the Incarnation was the idea all along. Christmas – and Easter 33 years later – was the entire point.

The Jews had all of their prophetic history from Abraham until John the Baptist to prepare them for the coming of Messiah. The rest of the world did not have these things. Yet, as Christ was brought to them, they saw the truth and were ready. What prepared them?

And all of nature – including the Winter Solstice itself – is set up by God to point the way to his own glory: the Fathers teach that Nature, herself, is the first Bible. “All the earth is a memorial to thee, a presence of thy works” (Odes of Solomon, 11). And Saint Maximus the Confessor points out that the sun itself is a sign of Christ. ” The Sun that rises and illumines the world, it makes itself visible as well as the objects it illumines. It is the same with the Sun of Righteousness. When he rises in a mind that has been purified, he makes himself scene in addition to the logoi of the objects he has created.”

The Vikings did not have the Old Testament: they had Odin hanging on his tree for wisdom, though, and the Winter Solstice. The Celts did not have the Old Testament, but the entire nation of Ireland converted without bloodshed or protest. American Indians, Aztecs, Mayans, they all saw something they couldn’t reject. The Chinese, too, and the Indians, saw something in this strange, incarnate God from Israel that met their local, already prepared souls. Each one saw something foretold in their cultures, and each one found it fulfilled in Christ.

And why not? If God can work through the Hebrew prophets, the religious leaders of a “stubborn and stiff-necked people,” to bring about the Blessed Virgin Mary and her divine Son, Jesus, then what can he bring about through the rest of us? Isaiah even calls King Cyrus (of Persia) the Messiah! Thus says the Lord to his anointed, (that is “Messiah” in Hebrew) to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him and strip the loins of kings, to force gateways before him that their gates be closed no more: I will go before you levelling the heights. I will shatter the bronze gateways, smash the iron bars. I will give you the hidden treasures, the secret hoards, that you may know that I am the Lord. (Isaiah 45:1–3) Elsewhere (I’m having trouble finding it, to be honest…) God says to Israel, I’ve called you, but I’ve also called these other peoples to do other things.” And so God was at work everywhere.

The Church even commemorates Augustus Caesar on Christmas, noting in the Martyrology for 25 December, that the incarnation happened, “in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the whole world was at peace”. The traditional teaching being that God arranged even the Roman Empire so that there was a common language, and roads, and trade among all so that the faith could be spread that much further.

So, “you’re only saying Jesus was born now to imitate the pagans.” No, actually, Jesus was born now exactly to imitate the pagans: they’re expecting him.

And why not? He’s their God, too.

O Key of David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

What is happening here? After yesterday’s particularity, the coming Christchild is called the key of David, seemingly reverting back to something less-particular. I struggle with this verse every year because the rod of David’s father is now David’s key. What is happening here?

David is known for ruling Israel, begetting Solomon the Wise, and writing the Psalms. How is Jesus the Key of David?

The Psalms are considered by Christian tradition to be the prophetic heart of the Old Testament. In the Orthodox Church David is called a prophet for his crafting of these texts. But it is not clear how many many messianic images are here to be fulfilled until one begins to notice how often the Psalms come up in the New Testament and in the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic texts. The Church has read this whole book in the light of Christ since the very beginning.

Monastics in the desert prayed these texts from memory, meditating on the words, the word order, and the progression of symbols. St Gregory of Nyssa even found salubrious content in the inscriptions for the Psalms! From this process of prayer and meditation, the Church has allowed David’s deepest meaning to be unveiled, unlocked by Christ.

So Christ is the key of the Psalms and so of all the Hebrew Scriptures. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) He unlocks the text and no one can shut it. Once you see the meaning, you can’t unsee it. And all of even his own life points to his death.

The dirty wood of the manger becomes the dirty word of the cross. The swaddling clothes become the winding sheets of the tomb. The tears of joy from his mother become her deepest sadness at the cross. The shepherds who worship become the crowd of scorners. The Kings doing homage become the soldiers and officials taunting him. The blood and water of birth become the blood and water from his side. The angels Gloria becomes stunned silence. The lost family looking for a place to lay a new baby becomes the lost friends looking for a place to lay a dead man. Jesus is the key… everything is unlocked.

What does Jesus lock? Escape is no longer an option. We have more on that in the next post on the antiphons.

O Root

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

JMJ

At the heart of the story of the Incarnation is one family, one mother, one Child. We can see this: God working through an ever-tightening circle, from All the World to > All Israel > Southern Kingdom > Tribe of Judah > Jesse’s family >Joseph and Mary > Jesus. But the target, even at the end, is All the World. God uses one particular thing. One and only one.

Christmas shares not only God’s love for us but also God’s love for each one of us, for you, for me, as individuals. See: God works through individual actions, individual choices, individual moments. God literally has to do this because he has given us this world of time, of space, where the only thing that ever exists is this moment now. Yes, God is Almighty and he can act in history but history only comes in the smallest of individual moments, one at a time. Each moment incarnating and passing away like the tiny ovum that becomes a full-grown baby and then a man who dies, but only one moment at a time.

The Root of Jesse means only one person: not all the tribe of Judah, not all of Israel, but only this one person, born of one person, born of one person, etc. God acting even in ancient times: through prostitutes and adulterers. Through gentiles and evil villains. Through kings and commoners. All these made up Jesus’ family tree! God’s final act is coming soon: a cowshed, smelling of poop and dirt, and the standard-issue human birth in blood and water. A baby.

God loves us this much. And not just us: you are loved this much. One particular birth for one particular soul. The Radix Jesse in exchange for you.

This is why kings stand silent. No human leader or head of state knows his people like Jesus knows you, even if you don’t follow him or believe he exists. Jesus knows you, was born for you, died for you. While I believe the reigning Monarchs of the world have human interactions, I’m not at all sure about the elected politicians. They seem grossly out of touch. Jesus, however, knows you.

The particular of you will be different. But for me, it dawned on me, last week that Jesus loved me, died for me, knowing of all my sexual sins, all my addictions, all my failures of pride, gluttony, sloth, and envy. Jesus loved me first despite all that and thought it was worth it to enter history, to give up heavenly glory, to humbly submit to the will of the Father, to die for me.

As the Christmas Carol says, “Who would not love him, loving us so dearly?” My brothers and sisters, not us, but me? How can I not love this God, this Man, this particular baby, this particular birth in that it shows so much love for me?

Come along: know his love for you. The rod of Jesse’s stem sprung forth for us from a withered stump, rises without delay to deliver each of us.

O Virgin

+JMJ+

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

This Antiphon, from the Use of Sarum, is common among Anglo-Catholics. I’m not sure but maybe it has come to the Anglican Use Catholics as well. It’s not part of the traditional Roman use, but once upon a time there were other O Antiphons as well. The 6 or 7 we use are fine.

Let me make bold to offer a correction to the English of our accepted text here… not because it’s wrong in the translation, but because I think, for brevity’s sake, it misses the point. It may be singable, but that’s not what I want to do just now.

Try this:

The Daughters of Jerusalem say:
“O Virgin of virgins,
how shall this be?
For neither before was any like thee,
nor shall there be after.”
And Our Blessed Lady responds:
“Daughters of Jerusalem,
why marvel ye at *me*?
Divine is the Mystery you discern.”

That is what Our Lady does: she always points away from her self – to Christ. And she does so in the hymns of the Church as well, although common folklore can creep in and create a near goddess (as in the case with the Joy of All Who Sorrow icon, or the devotion to Our Lady Multiplier of Wheat) or a Perfect Mommy (as in some Latin and Mediterranean devotions). We can stretch it very far, though, before it breaks and, even in the most Mary-Centered moments, if we let her speak, she still points us towards her Divine Human Son.

Christmas is, of course, one of those moments. The Baby is easy to overlook while surrounded by all these adults. Mary is most evident: in the English mystery plays she even births the Child by herself while Joseph is out trying to find midwives. We can over-emphasise her place, to the point where, like the hymn, we seemingly mix the “mother and child” image into one of “Round yon Virgin”.

The iconic tradition is to always show her with her Child – although some more recent icons show her alone. The Western tradition seems to emphasise her virginity over and above all things while the Eastern seems to emphasise her role as the Birth-Giver of God. But the hymn has it right: “Round yon virgin mother… and child” Her virginity is good, yes, but meaningless without her motherhood and the reverse is equally true. It is not what or who she is that is important but rather what and who she is in relation to Christ that is important. This is true of all of us: none of us is anything save in relation to Christ. And no human being (even those who deny it) is without this relationship. For Human Nature is one in all of us including the God-Man (or God-Baby) Jesus.

Christ is the only way God makes himself known – all truth about God comes through Christ, the Law of Moses, the visit of Angels to Abraham, and even, according to St Justin, the True teachings of Socrates, Plato and so on (the Truth of Lao Tzu, of the Hopi, of anyone) is there to the degree that Christ revealed it. Without that Truth revealed in Christ there is no truth at all. The same is true of our relationships, of our humanity. We become fully who we are only in Christ. Mary is who she is only because of Christ. I will, God willing, one day become who God Created me to be – but only because of Christ. No one can be fully human with out that – because therein we find the true source of our Humanity.

Mary does, in this antiphon, exactly what our ancient spiritual ancestors, the Martyrs, did: rejecting all honours, forfeiting even what is rightfully hers to say, “This is a divine mystery, I have no crown but Christ. Look at my Son.” There, in her self-emptying which follows her Son’s own self-emptying, we find the one thing that we, too, must do: we must pour ourselves out, give ourselves away to make Him more present in our lives and to our neighbours.

The only Christmas Present is Christ given through yourself to another.

—————-

This is the last meditation in the Advent Series. Advent is over, but we’re not there yet. We have come to the cave, we now await only the miracle.

Apolytikion:
Be thou ready, Bethlehem, Eden hath opened unto all.
Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold,
the Tree of life hath blossomed forth
in the cave from the Holy Virgin.
Her womb hath proved a true spiritual Paradise,
wherein the divine and saving Tree is found,
and as we eat thereof we shall all live,
and shall not die as did Adam.
For Christ is born now
to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.

Kontakion:
On this day the Virgin cometh to a cave
to give birth to God the Word ineffable,
Who was before all the ages.
Dance for joy, O earth,
on hearing the gladsome tidings;
with the Angels and the shepherds
now glorify Him Who is willing
to be gazed on as a young Child
Who before the ages is God.

I thank you for joining me on these meditations. A blessed Christmas – Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

O Emmanuel

+JMJ+

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the one awaited by the gentiles, and their Savior: come to save us, Lord our God.

Once in royal Davids city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little Child.

INCARNATION is always confusing.

Imagine yourself a devout and G-d-fearing man of the tribe of Judah, living in Roman-Occupied Israel, and wondering “How long, O L-rd, for ever?” You know the law, you know the prophets. When your family and community obligations allow, you go to the synagogue and pray. You make the annual trips to Jerusalem and offer sacrifice. You stand in the court of the Jews and see the glorious Levites and Cohanim offering their services before Ha Kadosh, Baruch Hu. And you know, in your heart, that He will come to save His people.

Outside your window one night a noisy crowd go past and, rising to investigate, you discover a group of shepherds. What news? Ma Khadosh, you ask. And you’re told of strange and wonderful things: angels and the redemption of Israel. You follow along. Your mind fills with strange ideas – angelic armies and flowing robes of gold, the Kingdom of David restored and your own tribe in glory. Rome at bay, justice done. You begin a Burucha, thanking G-d that He has counted you worthy to see this day.

And what? A stable? A cave? A manger? A baby!

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Oy.

God with us: can anything be more surprising?

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

It’s about time to prepare the annual sermons about the homeless, poverty-ridden family from Nazareth and something about the poor and outcast and marginalised. Those are sermons for people who don’t believe in the miracle of Emanuel. The Church offers a very different story: of Righteous Joseph chosen by the elders exactly because he was wealthy enough to care for the Holy Maiden and her Child, of a family that was not “homeless” or marginalised – but well connected to the Priestly tribes and families of Israel.

None of that is important however: it’s the localised version of the Divine Institution known in the secular world as the Pax Romana. God prepared the Whole World to receive Himself. The Jews knew – but didn’t guess – their time of preparation was over. The Romans did not know – but they were prepared anyway. The family from Nazareth had been prepared and knew the Truth.

For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

And yet, a baby?

It would have been easier, I think, if the whole world had seen that night not a baby but the Infant of Prague: bejeweled and enrobed, radiant lighting, and, of course, a crown and orb. No one could doubt then, the miracle that had happened. That would look like God. But Incarnation calls for God to empty Himself, to take the form of a servant – a man like each of us. Incarnation takes away from us our dreams about “what we know God must really be like.” Incarnation – Revelation – God-With-Us requires us to say, “God is now not what I imagined, but what I see.” Incarnation requires that we give up our dreams of what we are certain God “really is” and accept God as He offers Himself. God with us means we can no longer project onto Him all our idols and vainglorious “gods and goddesses”. Rather we must take what we are given – or refuse Him outright. God is with us – even to the end of the age. It is we who must decide to walk away.

Incarnation means God is no longer in our little boxes. Incarnation does away with all the theology, all the philosophy that we might dream up and hold out as a model of God. Incarnation trims away the refuse and focuses all the dreams into one point, one here, one now.

There.

We must say yes or no.

But a baby? Coming into the world just like each of us – Eyes closed, sleeping, crying, looking slightly like Winston Churchill, rolling in hay and surrounded by beasts. This, surely, is not the Holy One of Israel, the Giver of the Law, the Sun of Righteousness, the King of Glory. This is only a baby.

Or is it?

We have all waited so long, and each of us prepared in God’s own way, we are here. Gathered. Waiting.

Maranatha.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.

O King

+JMJ+
O Rex Gentium,
et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis,
qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the Nations,
and the one they desired,
keystone,
who makes both peoples one,
come and save mankind,
whom you shaped from the mud.

There is this curious article by Philip Turner that showed up in First Things a few years ago and still surfaces every once in a while.

Like many such things it posits to tell “What is really wrong with the Episcopal Church” and launches into a rant about liberal theology. There is a radically new theology being taught in ECUSA, goes the line. It’s the death knell of Christianity as we know it. There is the fully descriptive quote describing this theology:

The Episcopal sermon, at its most fulsome, begins with a statement to the effect that the incarnation is to be understood as merely a manifestation of divine love. From this starting point, several conclusions are drawn. The first is that God is love pure and simple. Thus, one is to see in Christ’s death no judgment upon the human condition. Rather, one is to see an affirmation of creation and the persons we are. The life and death of Jesus reveal the fact that God accepts and affirms us. From this revelation, we can draw a further conclusion: God wants us to love one another, and such love requires of us both acceptance and affirmation of the other. From this point we can derive yet another: Accepting love requires a form of justice that is inclusive of all people, particularly those who in some way have been marginalized by oppressive social practice. The mission of the Church is, therefore, to see that those who have been rejected are included-for justice as inclusion defines public policy. The result is a practical equivalence between the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and a particular form of social justice.

But we need to see that quote with a backdrop of light cast by today’s verse: Christ is the One “who makes both peoples one”. Saint Paul’s epistles are filled with this message of “both peoples one”. In Christ all of us are made one. It really is a message of radical inclusion such as we have no human concept of how to manifest it.

I posit that the issue is not the theology but the disconnection of the theology from its roots, its wholeness: its Catholicity. To understand the message of radical inclusion, one must hear the Full Faith without the nihilism of the reformation that occluded so much of the Truth, or with the inclusion of the the material that leaks through the cracks caused by the wresting of otherwise faithful folks from the bosom of the our faithful Mother Church. It is a message of radical inclusion such as we have no human concept of how to manifest it – outside of the Church.

The quote ably describes a sermon I preached – I confess I was in error. But the error was not in telling a lie, the error was in not telling the full truth. The “Radical justice of Inclusion” is seen outside of the bonds of the Church’s faith: yes we’re all included, we’re all invited to the Eucharistic Banquet of eternity, but the liberal Protestant often version misses the time and the place – imagining it’s here and now, a kingdom of this world. The Conservative Protestant version often misses the dress code, and the reality that it is a party to which we are invited, not a funeral. There’s a near Gnostic hatred of the flesh in the ultra-‘reformed’ traditions, puritanism, tee-totalism, “original sin” and other aspects of the West show it up. Fundamentalism in both its liberal and conservative forms ignores the truth of the Church…

There are sermons in the Fathers that offer much the same message: In Homily V on Ephesians, which touches on the “middle wall” passage, St John Chrysostom says,

What the middle wall of partition is, he interprets by saying, “the enmity having abolished in His flesh, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances.”

Some indeed affirm that he means the wall of the Jews against the Greeks, because it did not allow the Jews to hold intercourse with the Greeks. To me, however, this does not seem to be the meaning, but rather that he calls “the enmity in the flesh,” a middle wall, in that it is a common barrier, cutting us off alike from God. As the Prophet says, “Your iniquities separate between you and Me;” (Isa. lix: 2.) for that enmity which He had both against Jews and Gentiles was, as it were, a middle wall. And this, whilst the law existed, was not only not abolished, but rather was strengthened; “for the law,” saith the Apostle, “worketh wrath.” (Rom. iv: 15.) Just in the same way then as when he says in that passage, “the law worketh wrath,” he does not ascribe the whole of this effect to the law itself, but it is to be understood, that it is because we have transgressed it; so also in this place he calls it a middle wall, because through being disobeyed it wrought enmity.

The law was a hedge, but this it was made for the sake of security, and for this reason was called “a hedge,” to the intent that it might form an inclosure. For listen again to the Prophet, where he says, “I made a trench about it.” (Isa. v: 2.) And again, “Thou hast broken down her fences, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her.” (Ps. lxxx: 12.) Here therefore it means security and so again, “I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be trodden down.” (Isa. v: 5.) And again, “He gave them the law for a defence.” (Isa. viii: 20.) And again, “The Lord executeth righteous acts and made known His ways unto Israel.” (Ps. ciii: 6, Ps. ciii: 7.)

It became, however, a middle wall, no longer establishing them in security, but cutting them off from God. Such then is the middle wall of partition formed out of the hedge. And to explain what this is, he subjoins, “the enmity in His flesh having abolished, the law of commandments.”

St John, if we’re not careful, can sound like the most liberal of post-modernists.

It’s not in the content that ECUSA fails, but in the application. The truth of radical inclusion isn’t a secular one one where we can willy nilly include everyone based on their exclusion in the secular world. More importantly the truth of radical inclusion is not morality-free. The truth of radical inclusions does not over-ride the radical truth of free will: we’re all still free to make choices that put us further away from God rather than closer to Him. The Church shows us by God’s revelation the choices that are to be made to bring us closer to Him. The Church shows us the complications arising from other choices.

But knowing the consequences is not the same as making the choices: which we each must do on his own. Christ is the One that all peoples have desired: but He also must be the one you, yourself desire. When one loves Christ one seeks purity, one seeks communion, one seeks fellowship: one comes to Christ seeking to be made into the image of Christ. One brings one’s will to Christ seeking to conform that will to Christ.

The radical inclusion of the Gospel, and the radical mercy that God offers, terrifies people so much that on the liberal side they deny it by making it meaningless – they deny the changes that are made in the human heart included by God. When one has sat at their table long enough in their purely worldly party, one is horrified to find out one is not in the Church. On the conservative side they deny God’s inclusions by doing away with it legalistically: setting so many hoops and obstacles that, having jumped them all (as if it were possible) one is horrified to find one has jumped out of the Church. They turn the most joyous thing ever into “God’s difficult redemptive love” as Turner says. Sounds rather like a medical procedure, huh?

In the Church, however, God’s radical inclusion is offered to us along with all the changes it requires of us and effects in us. The salvation that is offered to us, the theosis that happens in us, the change of mind required of us waits only our choices. God’s radical inclusion is not a civil rights law, nor is it any kind of law at all. It is the revolution that changes nothing but the human heart: that makes us all one in God.

Of course, that last line about the mud… that’s not a hint that God created us in any way. Certainly it means we all evolved from the slime.

O Oriens

+JMJ+
O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
This verse gets sung at sunset on the Longest Night of the Year. Light is a big part of the symbolism for this season. While there are different theories for the reason ranging from Jewish traditional piety to aggressively taking over another religion’s holiday, there can be no denial of the liturgical import of the increasing darkness in December and the birth of light symbolised by the winter solstice. Though, sure, this makes no sense at all in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s actually the Summer Solstice, but here in the North, this makes a lot of sense. And so this prayer for light is uttered in the darkness – mindful also that the Great O Antiphons were sung at vespers, in the darkness.
The dawn of God in our life is the beginning.
Step 11 sounds this out:
  • Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
We are praying for God to come into our lives and show us what to do – and to give us the awakening we need, as well as the will to move forward. That line “praying only for knowledge of His Will for us” is confusing: far far too often we might hear of prayers that we’ll “Get to win the lottery if it be Thy Will, Heavenly Father.” Or, “Lord, let me marry him, if you will it!” Or, my favourite, “Lord, let us XYZ according to thy will”, which means, essentially, let us do what we want to do and let us be deluded into thinking we have you on our side: you hear this a lot in prayers for soldiers and speeches by political leaders who talk about “Governing according to God’s will”
Fr Joseph once told me we already know what God’s will is.
1 Timothy 2:3-4
This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
And Donald made it clear to me once, telling me a story about Will Campbell, that the most radical (overthrowing, revolutionary, etc) verse in the Bible was 2 Corinthians 5:19. Namely, that in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
The full passage is:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What is God’s will? That all should be saved.
What is God’s will? That we should be ministers of this reconciliation.
There is no other will for us.
I’m clear that God’s will towards this universal reconciliation does take different forms for each of us: but it’s not God’s will that I buy a house unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world. It’s not God’s will that I join the armed forces, unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world. It’s not God’s will that I marry that person over there unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world.This is the 12th Step happening.

  • 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The action of Reconciliation is the 12th Step. The restoration of the Net, the inviting of others into the Kingdom. The saving of thousands around you by the acquisition of the Spirit of Peace. 

In other words: there is no plan beyond salvation. The details are up to us. No choice should be made “with eyes to the future”, or with profit in mind or even wondering if there will be food on the table. No plan can be made unless this one question is asked: Is this choice, this plan, this job, this brunch date, this last YouTube posting, going to lead to the reconciliation of more of the world to God; of ourselves with each other?
Jesus points us this way: Love God and Love Neighbour are the same thing, and as we pray for God’s coming in Advent we need to know that God is coming to us every day in the lives of those people around us – on the Subway, on the Highway in the morning commute; in the office, in the school, in the shops of our daily life; in the beloved friend, the spouse, the absolute stranger we meet on the street. We need to see God and be reconciled to him. This is the dawn from on high breaking upon us.
The Church of England’s Common Worship Daily Prayer cycle has these two wonderful Advent prayers that point us in the right direction
Evening
Blessed are you, Sovereign God, creator of light and darkness, to you be glory and praise for ever. As evening falls, you renew your promise to reveal among us the light of your presence. May your word be a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path that we may behold your coming among us. Strengthen us in our stumbling weakness and free our tongues to sing your praise.
Morning
Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all, to you be praise and glory for ever. In your tender compassion the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to dispel the lingering shadows of night. As we look for your coming among us this day, open our eyes to behold your presence and strengthen our hands to do your will, that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Both ask that God reveal his presence among us – in the eyes of those whom we meet.