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 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.