Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sermons I would like to hear: The Disappointment of Christmas

This is part of a series on this blog where I allow myself a little more freedom with religious language than a strict reflection of my beliefs might allow. I like to imagine slinking into a church and hearing this sort of thing from the pulpit.

Originally when I shared the sentiments of this particular post in conversation I said that if I was a preacher at Christmas time then I would preach this. I guess I sort of am, on this blog. So here it is.

Note: Usually I leave old writing intact but  I've given this a little edit for 2015. I hope it reads more clearly.

This Christmas in some churches when they talk about the nativity they will call it a signpost. They will argue it points to the fulfillment of “a promise”. The fulfillment of that promise is not there yet in the birth of Jesus, nor is it even there in the crucifixion. Nor is it even there in the resurrection.

They will preach that the nativity is a signpost pointing to a promise fulfilled in Judgement Day – the second coming of Jesus. This is when the Messiah will reappear in full wrath and might; Jesus will impose their holy will on the earth as God's anointed King. This is supposedly a good thing – there will be no more victims of sin like little children abused. However by some reckonings all the little children who don’t believe in God are going to be thrown into hell so it may be more of a frying pan to fire outcome for some of them.

This shift of focus from the baby in the manger to Jesus with a flaming sword can be blindingly fast and in that lack of pause I hear shame. I hear shame and disappointment that when a peoples' awaited Messiah came they were a vulnerable and needy newborn. Vulnerable and needy are not words that many can comfortably attach to their God. Not when our Gods still function competitively in our psyche and our divine (or secular) powers ultimately prove themselves by their sovereignty over human affairs. 

Quickly Jesus must be aged, his human limitations removed and his divinity weaponised. This way, instead of reflecting on how Jesus might have needed their ass wiped, we can jump to a future vision of ass-whupping by a righteous king. A king is always meant to be unchallenged. The centre of the universe can’t be a baby.

But I don't hear anything in the nativity story that gives this permission to look away from the crib – to hurry time till Jesus grows up, dies, rises, comes again and makes everything alright by being the sort of Messiah they should have been in the first place. No, this is supposed to be “it” ; the long-awaited God dealing with humanity. This infant is Gods' cards thrown down on the table in a hand of two high.

One rationalisation of the Christmas disappointment is that God wanted us to have at least two thousand extra years for us to learn what right and wrong is. Jesus Mark I, the infant and the crucified, was the teacher and example. Jesus Mark II, the warrior, will set the final exam. It seems downright churlish to question this sort of reprieve. To accept it also potentially points history towards us as the real generation of Gods' will fulfillment, a reasonable feed of our ego.

But that’s bullshit. People were being raped two thousand years ago and I’m willing to wager they and their rapist knew what was happening to them was wrong well enough. If ever Gods' people needed a saving and avenging God it was the first century. They cried out for it from beneath Roman boot heels. The moment was ripe.

To spend Christmas talking about an avenging Messiah who is to come seems to me to be a denial of Christianity itself, a refusal to engage with the most basic mystery of the Messiah we got. Instead the nativity calls us to sit with a reality that includes the collective disappointment of God's conquered people. We should be able to hear their grief  still relevant to victims today;  “This, this is what we got God? A baby? Thanks heaps.”

No sword. No power. Another mouth to feed basically. A God who didn't come to kick our enemies arses at all. Instead they came to teach us to love our enemies and did so from the only position we would be willing to hear that from; one of us from the word go.

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