Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Love Song of God

I wonder if you recall reading about a proposal that a new generation of astronauts may have to be willing to accept the ultimate mission of landing on a distant planet without any prospect of returning to earth.

The general drift of this concept is that soon we’ll have the technology to get you there, but we don’t yet have the know-how to get you back. We’ll get you there so you can lay claim to some portion of this vast new territory, start a base of operations, and conduct amazing experiments (one of which is you), but we can’t get you back. We know lots of ways to support you, but at the start it’s going to be you and a brave new world.

Whereupon a political wag was heard to comment, “We already have this system in place. It’s how we send a President into the Oval Office.”

Does that harrowing job description of a future astronaut help us comprehend the mission Jesus accepted in being born of Mary? “Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown when thou camest to earth for me,” sings a 19th-century carol, when space flight couldn’t have been imagined. The carol evokes a sense of exile: does Jesus come to earth to be strategically stranded like that future astronaut?

Theologians among you will recognize that this comparison doesn’t work. An earthling on Mars would be an alien invasion. An earthling on Mars doesn’t belong there. The incarnation of God in Jesus is not the result of an extra-terrestrial mission injecting alien life into our world; it is the result of our world groaning in travail, yearning for healing, reaching for reconciling love, birthing in new creation. Jesus doesn’t come from heaven: Jesus comes from a fertilized egg in Mary’s womb; and while tradition explains this as miracle by the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, that spiritual “how” doesn’t contradict the physical “what” that we hear in the opening chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. There we find a long genealogy showing Jesus to be descended from wise Solomon and charismatic David and obedient Abraham—and it is Joseph’s genealogy, it is his seed that generates Jesus.

In the definition battled-out at the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, the “Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ,” he is said to be “truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood…”

Jesus Christ is like us in all respects, except that he is not exiled from God, not stuck in sin as we tend to be (though he knows what such exile feels like, he has gotten so close to the margins we have crossed). Reading again from that 5th-century definition: In him are held together, perfectly blended, “two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation… coming together to form one person and subsistence…one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ…”

I never thought I would be using the words of the Chalcedonian Definition in a Christmas sermon, but they eloquently express what I’m trying to say: Jesus is not an alien stranded in another world than his own: he is the most truly native son of earth, fulfilling the mind of its maker. Which means that his mission is to draw into unity all things, all people, all the created order into unity with God in himself.

The stranded astronaut, to the contrary, divides the planet he invades by claiming a portion of it as his, belonging to his country. He is exiled from earth but carries with him the earthbound sin of claiming what is not his to own.

As this is not the way of Jesus, how will he gather into one a fractured creation? By claiming what is his to own, his truth resonating with what is true in us, his love recognizing what is love in us, his mercy reaching to renew our integrity, his wisdom building with the wisdoms of diverse humanity, his self-giving encouraging and inspiring the generosity of all brave hearts.

Here is good news, sung like a lovesong from God, to all who carry in their bodies, minds, or hearts wounds from being exiled from home…, exiled from innocence…, alienated from God…, alienated by religion…, separated from a loved one (or a once-loved one)…, disillusioned by politics…, all who feel they are refugees from a dominant culture…, strangers in a changing world…

He knows all about our exile. He comprehends it all. He is at work there, on those frontiers of our own alienations, offering sanctuary, offering repair, offering renewal in his own body and his own Spirit and in the community that bears his name.

Here is good news, sung like a lovesong from God. How shall we sing back?