Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Eve of Xmas

Isaiah 35:1-10

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2itshall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, themajesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Bestrong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will comeand save you."

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like adeer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams inthe desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackalsshall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be calledthe Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, butthe redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing;everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

This passage, from Second Isaiah, originally was written in the context of the Jewish Exile in Babylon (6th century BC). Isaiah says that God will bring the ransomed--those tested and brought through the trial of exile--back to Zion (Jerusalem). After the long and harsh trials and time of chastisement put upon the people God has relented and will bring them back with joy. For the Lord ever breaks down in order to build up.

Christians then read in this passage a message concerning Jesus Christ. Of course Isaiah himself wasn't referring to Jesus and didn't prophetically "see" him 500 years into the future. But it is still one reading, legitimate as it creates a community of faith.

Christians celebrate the birth of their Lord on December 25th as a way of embracing and giving meaning (or co-opting depending on pov) the pagan festival of the Solstice. The Gospel says nothing about Jesus being born on December 25th. That was a later interpretation given by the Church.

The Solstice was the time of the lowest point of sunlight. From then on the sun is ascendant. Symbolically the light overcomes the darkness (Gospel of John). It is related to the ancient fertility rites of the King/Hero-God overcoming the forces of chaos/winter (Marduk slays Tiamat, Mithras sacrifices the Bull, Yahweh God kills the sea-monster Leviathan).

As the Psalms say, "The Lord reigns." It is not an abstract principle but a cultic ritual and expression of devotion to the Lord. The Lord reigns, alleluia.

The Prophet Isaiah speaks of a way, a highway ofor the Lord. This is a theme common in the tradition of Deuteronomy: following God as the Way (The Tao in Chinese). The originals Christians were not called Christians but rather followers of the Way. To depart from the way was not moralistic but rather an objective statement of consequences. Depart neither from the left or the right.

But this way Christians also see as a reference to the salvation of all--the way is so wide even the fool can not go astray. God comes with vengeance and recompense to bring salvation to the captives.

As Jesus first programmatic speech, according to the Gospel of Luke, quotes Isaiah: I have come to open the eyes of the blind...

The Lord reigns. It is not just a fertility rite that the Lord has overcome winter so we can have crops and babies. The Lord reigns to bring justice, overflowing water in the dry desert of human misery and injustice.

This hellish realm of pain and suffering. This realm of humans murdering humans, corpses and strewn body parts. The forces of hatred and war, of poverty, of billions of our brothers and sisters crying out from the abyss and we respond not. We care not for their misery. The way of the unclean who follow not the precepts of the Creator.

And yet we proclaim a God who comes to us in our pathetic-ness. Our cold hearted obstinacy, self-righteousness, cynicism, apathy, and sin. A God who reigns. But for the Christians a God who reigns via powerlessness.

A God who is born among blood and entrails, covered in puss and mucus. A God who defecates on himself and has to have his excrement wiped off by another. A God of day laborers, not the rich and elite well educated. A God who spends time with smelly illiterate fishermen, prostitutes, widows, tax collectors, and the poor. A God who humanity constantly shuts out--there is never room in our inner inns for the Lord, for devotion to the Almighty. A God who exists only in the backalleys and mangers of existence.

A God murdered.

This is the insane reason we rejoice on this Eve.


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