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Mary’s Christmas and the Justice of God
Christmas is the incarnation of a promise whispered ages ago, and the Righteousness which had been slowly rising from its prophetic slumber; in a phrase, poetic justice. The incarnation turned creation inside out; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Light came into the world and darkness could find no shadow in which to hide.
In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son and the old wineskins burst. Even old promises could not contain this new wine; distilled from eternity, yet more fresh than every successive tomorrow.
Ancient names crowned the Newborn who was from everlasting. Immanuel: “God is with us!” In our world. In our midst. In our flesh. God kept his word; God gave his Word. Yeshua: “God is for us!” For us and for our salvation. He shall save his people from their sins.
Infinity in infant form. Grace and Truth has ten tiny fingers and toes. Held in the arms of his mother, yet upholding all things by the word of his power.
People who imagined vain things wrung helpless hands. Kings who propped themselves on pretended thrones trembled. Rulers who took counsel together paced empty halls on sleepless nights. God laughed as he placed his Son into the arms of Mary, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” Their Son was already unsettling the world, and this great unsettling would settle everything.
Mary was the last of the barren women whose miracle sons saved Israel. Mary was another Rebekah and Rachel and Hannah, all of them figures of “barren Israel” waiting for the consolation to come. Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, “Rejoice” (Luke 1), echoed prophetic exhortations to “daughter Zion” (Zephaniah 3:14; Zechariah 9:9).
Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson says of Mary, “As the created space for God, Mary was Israel concentrated.” She was a tabernacle, a dwelling place for God, over which the Spirit brooded (Luke 1:35), as the cloudy pillar hovered over the tabernacle (Exodus 40; Genesis 1:2). This is fitting, as she was bearing the Ark of God—the seat of atonement, the emblem of God’s covenant faithfulness. While still in utero, John donned the mantle of the prophet as if to say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In tumultuous joy, he danced before his Lord as David once did before the Ark.
“Blessed among women,” Mary was another Jael, who was also “most blessed of women” (Judges 5:24). Jael was the woman who pounded a tent peg through the skull of Sisera, that Canaanite general, in one of the many head-crushing moments in the Bible. Mary was a greater Jael because she was the new Eve, whose Seed would crush the serpent’s head with his heel (Genesis 3:15).
In that Seed were the seeds of New Creation. Strangers peering through the gates of Israel need not wait for Pentecost to be included in the Body of Christ. In his virginal conception, Jesus incorporated even we lowly gentiles into his body. The promise of God to Abraham to bless gentiles through his seed was fulfilled in Mary’s womb long before the miraculous events of the Upper Room. Before the babe ever took his first breath in that cattle stall in Bethlehem, Abraham’s Seed knitted the nations together in secret. Before Jesus was circumcised or baptized, he had already become the primal sacrament which would mollify Babel’s deep wound. Mary–the bush aflame, yet not consumed–became the fertile soil in which wild branches were grafted into the natural olive tree. And from that tree, the Root of Jesse, sprouted the Branch who would put forth his leaves for the healing of the nations.
Jenson went so far as to say, “As the created space for God, there must be a mysterious sense in which Mary is heaven, the container not only of the uncontainable Son, but of all his sisters and brothers, of what Augustine called the totus christus.”
Treasuring all these things and pondering them in her heart, she kissed the Son. He wasn’t angry. The nations will be his. The blessings will be hers. Hers along with all those who put their trust in him. This is the justice of God. We know it best by its other name—salvation.
Crumbs Swept Up
This year, though difficult and tumultuous, has been quite productive in many respects. I was able to do a great deal of writing. I contributed articles to a number of venues and even had the pleasure of seeing an idea go from stray notes on a cocktail napkins to published book. Over the next week or so I will be posting links to a few of those.
Below are links to a few articles I penned for The North American Anglican for the release of the book.
P.T. Forsyth reminds us that the “Christian preacher is not the successor of the Greek orator, but of the Hebrew prophet.” Whereas the orator buries his subject in words, the preacher liberates his subject with a Word. Indeed, the minister is not called to say something, he is required to have something to say. His business is turning ears into eyeballs so that his hearers may catch sight of Christ.
Despite the fact that the Old Testament makes up 75% of the Christian Bible, it is only the subject of about 20% of Christian sermons. We treat Israel’s Scripture as though it were the Word of God Emeritus, forcibly retired from active duty, teetering around some country club in Palm Springs as it slips further into obscurity. It is only a slight exaggeration to suggest that Heaven could look upon us and say, “Moses my servant is dead. The kings have gathered unto their fathers. And these are they which have killed the prophets.”
St. John, in rapturous prose, takes us to the heights of the transcendent mystery in three, short, stabbing syllables when he writes, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16). This is no mere philosophical speculation concerning metaphysics; no, these gilded words evidence the inestimable value of the knowledge of God rightly appreciated. The Apostle declares that the ultimate ground of being is to be found in the selfless givenness of the Holy. For what is love but beneficence and a sharing of one’s self with another? In our case, the kindly outpouring of the Infinite into finitude—treasure in earthen vessels. The life of mutual love enjoyed in the Godhead is shed abroad in a creation born of charity. We exist in, and through, and for, the ceaseless love of the Eternal God.
Navigating Evil, Worship, and the Devotional Life
Over at Anglican Compass I had the privilege of contributing three articles: one offering a way of thinking through the “problem of evil,” one on the place of lament in Christian worship, and one on the pitfalls of private Bible study.
“If God, why evil?”
When men first announced the death of God these four, short, stabbing, syllables were thought to be the nails in the Creator’s coffin. This riddle may not have been the instrumental cause of his death, but it was certainly thought that it would prevent any future resurrection on his part. Unfortunately for them, scoffers have a bad track record when it comes to keeping God in his grave. I would suggest that far from being atheism’s invincible weapon, the so-called “Problem of Evil” is just a question in search of the proper context.
Christianity grew from the fertile soil of Judaism, with its rich tradition of both hallelujahs and lamentations. The minor key is a major theme in the Psalter. Just so, Christianity is such that it allows us to sing the blues. Sometimes faithfulness even requires it. The Psalter, Israel’s “Book of Common Prayer,” normalizes and humanizes grief, pain, and sorrow in a way that much modern Christianity fails to do.
“If you want to understand what a particular verse of Scripture means you have to stop reading it. In fact, you should never read a Bible verse.”