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Christ and Christmas
Incarnation, Insurrection, and a Whole Lotta' Chocolate
*The following article written for The North American Anglican was based primarily upon my notes from a recent series of lectures I delivered at our parish on the Incarnation of Christ.
“Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee” ~Isaiah 12:6
Holy Scripture begins where we must begin—with the grounding truth that God is not like us. Moreover, He is not like anything at all. He is incomparable, incomprehensible; sui generis—utterly unique, in a class by Himself. Before the hills in order stood, or ever the earth received her frame; even from everlasting to everlasting there was God, dwelling alone in solidarity with Himself.
When the Triune God acted in creation it was not because of any need or lack or want. For the “Blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11) is absolutely perfect and complete in His being. That He created at all is but a demonstration of His superabundant goodness, a display of His uncontainable glory. Creation derives from the overflow of sheer delight as an expression of the fecundity of God’s own felicity. As Katherine Sonderegger has said, “…the creative jussive Let there be expresses the verb to be in an open-handed way, a command that is a permission, an order that is a gift, a speaking forth of created things out of the sheer Vitality that is the Lord God Himself.” That is, it was the unfettered freedom of God that gave rise to everything that is, rather than constraint. God would have been perfectly happy without the world. That He made it at all says something amazing about His desire to share such eternal happiness with creatures. Thus it is possible to speak of creation as an act of pure grace.
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We watch the trees die every year. They shed. They imitate the sunset and pile their darkness in the yard. It is a thick darkness that you can sit in, lie in, fall in. And it smells. Those leaves, the windblown evidence of death and dying, come down with scent. It is the smell of death, the the first fruits of rot. It is glorious.
Breathe it in; it’s food for the lungs. The carnage is devastating. Whole blocks lie buried beneath the remains of oaks and maples and pines. Children wade through the accumulated death. Men rake it up and bag it. Fall has made its mark. Life is drained. Light now wanes. The comforting breeze of yesterday now bites at naked necks.
Then comes the frost. The ground grows hard now that the trees have given up their dead. The gathered leaves lie cold and colorless waiting to be buried—or burned. But the great sleep truly comes when the sky turns white and falls. Trees are shrouded, the ground is hardened. Every tomb is white washed. The world lies covered, hidden, dead.
We put on coats and walk in the silence. Everything is moving but there is a stillness about it all. When the sky falls, it does so quietly and muffles every complaint. As it falls, we can see our last breath but we cannot see our next one. The cold taunts us. Perhaps that last one was the last one. The barren trees give in to the taunts. They are pessimists. “It is time to die,” they say, and they sleep. Perhaps they are wise in their own way. They have been around for a long time.
The Journey of the Magi
"Journey of the Magi" is a poem by T.S. Eliot, first published in 1927 in a series of pamphlets related to Christmas. The poem was written shortly after Eliot's conversion to the Anglican faith. Eliot borrowed heavily from a Christmas sermon preached four-hundred years earlier by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes. In his Christmas homily, the famous preacher declared,
A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, ‘the very dead of winter.’
Listen to Eliot read his classic poem: